Didi Gregorius acknowledges that no player will ever come close to accomplishing what Derek Jeter attained in his 20-year career as shortstop for the Yankees. However, on Monday afternoon in Baltimore, the 27-year-old actually achieved a feat the eventual first-ballot Hall-of-Famer never did.
In the fourth inning against Orioles’ starter Dylan Bundy, Gregorius drilled a two-run shot over Camden Yards’ tall right-field wall, becoming the first shortstop in franchise history to hit 20 homers in back-to-back seasons. While he and Jeter are the only Yankees shortstops to have multiple campaigns of that sort, Gregorius is the first to reach the mark consecutively.
“Just try to stay consistent, I think that’s all I’m trying to do,” Gregorius told the YES Network following the Yankees’ 7-4 win over Baltimore. “There’s a lot of ups and downs in a season. We try to keep the ups as much as possible, and trying to have consistency and trying to have a gameplan every day is basically what I’m trying to do.
“I’m not worried about the home runs. For me, it’s more trying to make improvements, trying to get better. If I hit home runs, I hit home runs. I like going out there and trying to hit them, but it’s nice to have it also.”
When the Yankees acquired Gregorius in a three-team trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Detroit Tigers during the 2014 offseason, several fans and pundits were engulfed by a considerable amount of skepticism. It was risible to believe that a young and unproven player could fill Jeter’s void, and it was fair to assume that Gregorius wouldn’t suit the vital role.
Well, those folks can’t be found anywhere now.
2017 has been Gregorius’ best season thus far. Despite missing almost all of April with a shoulder injury, he’s performed admirably at the plate — hitting a career-high and team-leading .289 (129-for-447) with those 20 jacks and 64 RBI in 113 games. Currently, he trails Brett Gardner by just one hit for the team lead, and his 3.3 WAR ranks fifth among all Major League shortstops, according to FanGraphs‘ version of the sabermetric.
Gregorius has significantly assisted the Yankees in their goal to reach the postseason, and it also goes without saying that Yankees’ general manager Brian Cashman’s trust in Gregorius from the get-go has paid the franchise dividends.
Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi credits Gregorius’ growth and maturity to his opportunity to play on a regular basis.
“There’s a lot of times that players come up and they’re young and they’re very talented but there’s adjustments that they have to make and they have to find out who they are and what makes them successful, their routine,” Girardi told YES Network. “And I think Didi’s got a good one.”
Most importantly, Gregorius hasn’t felt fazed by the daunting expectations associated with New York, which explains why he’s gradually progressed in such a short period of time.
“This is the big leagues. You’ve got to get the job done,” Gregorius told FanRag Sports’ John Perrotto. “That’s what you concentrate on. It’s the Yankees. We’re expected to win, so you put all focus on that. You can’t worry about what anyone else thinks. You can’t really fill your mind with that.”