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Isiah Kiner-Falefa said playing for the Yankees is “something I’ve always dreamed of,” and that sentiment didn’t change after his first two games as the team’s starting shortstop, despite going hitless and making an error.
“I’ve just got to slow things down a little bit,’’ Kiner-Falefa said before the Yankees played the final game of their season-opening series against the Red Sox.
Among the adjustments Kiner-Falefa, a lifelong Yankees fan, said he’s had to make is becoming adjusted to the field at Yankee Stadium after playing on artificial turf with the Rangers at Globe Life Field a year ago.
Kiner-Falefa had started just 15 games at short prior to last year, but he was the everyday shortstop for the Rangers in 2021, playing 156 games there.
He fumbled a grounder on Opening Day and made a throwing error in the top of the ninth on Saturday that allowed the Red Sox to bring the tying runner to the plate before Aroldis Chapman finished the save.
“I’m comfortable at short, especially after just playing there all of last year and this spring,’’ said Kiner-Faelfa, who played second base, third and catcher in his first few years in the majors. “I should be able to make the plays I’ve not made so far. It’s just about adjusting to the field and to these surroundings.”
As for going 0-for-8 with a pair of strikeouts in the early going, Aaron Boone said Kiner-Falefa had mostly hit into bad luck.
“Offensively, he’s hit some balls pretty hard,’’ Boone said before the Yankees-Red Sox finale on Sunday, when he batted Kiner-Falefa eighth in the lineup. “He just hasn’t had anything to show for it.”
Kiner-Falefa was fairly solid defensively throughout spring training and hit well, going 13-for-33 in 11 Grapefruit League games after arriving in the offseason in a trade that also brought Josh Donaldson and Ben Rortvedt from the Twins, in exchange for Gary Sanchez and Gio Urshela.
An AL scout who saw Kiner-Falefa during the spring said, “He looked fine at short, which is what they’re looking for, I think. They didn’t expect him to be perfect out there or to be in the middle of the lineup. They got him to be solid out there and be a smart player, which he is. He’ll look better the longer you watch him.”
The success at the plate, though, has never translated into the regular season, as he entered the year with a .667 OPS for his career.
And the spotlight will remain on Kiner-Falefa, in part because of the Yankees’ decision to sit out the free-agent shortstop market — including seeing Carlos Correa go to the Twins on a three-year deal that has an opt-out after this season.
As Boone pointed out again Sunday, the Yankees like Kiner-Falefa’s “bat-to-ball” skills and if the opening series has been any indication- with five homers in their first two games — they should be able to get plenty of offense elsewhere in the lineup.
“He made the error on the throw on the run, but I like where he’s at from a mindset [standpoint],’’ Boone said. “He’s aggressive, he’s attacking both sides of the ball. … He’ll be fine.”