Isiah Kiner-Falefa starts in center, Aaron Hicks on Yankees bench

The Yankees’ first start in center field this season, aside from Aaron Judge, goes to Isiah Kiner-Falefa.

The shortstop-turned-utilityman was set to play his first career regular-season game in the outfield on Sunday, starting in center field for the series finale against the Giants at Yankee Stadium.

With Harrison Bader on the injured list with a strained oblique, Judge had started the first two games of the season in center field.

But with Judge moving back to his home in right field on Sunday, manager Aaron Boone gave Kiner-Falefa — with veteran Aaron Hicks still relegated to the bench — the start in center field after he had gotten some work there this spring.

“[Hicks] is going to play,” Boone said before the game. “Today is just not necessarily the matchup I love [against Giants right-hander Ross Stripling]. I would probably expect him to be in there the next couple of days. … But he’ll play, even though he hasn’t been in the lineup these first few [games]. The last two days, I don’t love that matchup. But likely in there probably the next few days.”

Isiah Kiner-Falefa is starting in center field for the Yankees on Sunday.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa is starting in center field for the Yankees on Sunday.

Kiner-Falefa started four games in center field and two in left field this spring after it became clear that he was not going to win the Yankees’ shortstop competition.

He had played 10 games in the outfield in his minor league career, with his most recent game there coming in 2017.

The Yankees like Kiner-Falefa’s athleticism in center field, which they hope allows him to continue to fill in there at times until Bader returns.

Aaron Hicks remained on the Yankees bench for Sunday's game.
Aaron Hicks remained on the Yankees bench for Sunday’s game.
Charles Wenzelberg/NY Post

Kiner-Falefa called it a “mutual” decision for him to start getting reps in the outfield — he said he started thinking about it after committing an error at shortstop on a routine play on March 3 — as the Yankees transitioned him into a utility role.

On Sunday, he called that error “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just understood — there’s two great shortstop prospects [Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza] that could help the team,” Kiner-Falefa said. “For me being an older guy, I definitely saw that. So instead of battling it out, I wanted to give myself an opportunity to stick on the team. I feel like them giving me that opportunity to play the outfield allowed me to still be here.”

Isiah Kiner-Falefa (r.) with Bernie Williams (l.) during Yankees spring training.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa (r.) with Bernie Williams (l.) during Yankees spring training.
Charles Wenzelberg/NY Post

Kiner-Falefa had a rocky season defensively at shortstop last year to the point that he was benched in the playoffs.

But he believes playing center field frees him up, likening the skill set to his days playing safety in high school football.

“I just like how you run balls down,” Kiner-Falefa said. “The freedom of not having to do something perfect, you just have to make the play. I think last year playing shortstop, sometimes I got caught up in being too perfect and caring about how I looked instead of finishing the play. Out there [in center field], the only thing that matters is catching the ball and making a good throw. I think that freedom is going to allow me to have some success.”

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𝗖𝗿𝗲𝗱𝗶𝘁𝘀, 𝗖𝗼𝗽𝘆𝗿𝗶𝗴𝗵𝘁 & 𝗖𝗼𝘂𝗿𝘁𝗲𝘀𝘆:
𝗙𝗼𝗿 𝗮𝗻𝘆 𝗰𝗼𝗺𝗽𝗹𝗮𝗶𝗻𝘁𝘀 𝗿𝗲𝗴𝗮𝗿𝗱𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗗𝗠𝗖𝗔,
𝗣𝗹𝗲𝗮𝘀𝗲 𝘀𝗲𝗻𝗱 𝘂𝘀 𝗮𝗻 𝗲𝗺𝗮𝗶𝗹 𝗮𝘁

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