Didi Gregorius hears Yankees’ fan chants: for Derek Jeter
NEW YORK (AP) — When Yankees fans give Didi Gregorius a shout out, it is not necessarily positive.
Gregorius hears it after making an out or committing an error: not his name, but his predecessor’s.
“Everywhere I go, people chanting Derek Jeter and all that stuff,” he said. “There’s nothing I can do with that. I’m just here trying to play my game, trying to make a lot of improvements, trying to get better.”
Succeeding Jeter as New York’s shortstop was never going to be easy, not after Jeter led the Yankees to five World Series titles and 17 postseason appearances during 20 seasons.
Gregorius’ slow start has made the transition more tumultuous. He is hitting .224 with a .259 slugging percentage, three errors in the field and a couple of major baserunning blunders.
“I think the important thing is you keep running him out there,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “He’s started to swing the bat better. It takes time. People think this game is easy and a lot of times they expect people to come in and just get the job done right away. But he’s only 25 years old, too. He’s a young shortstop.”
While Jeter has not been at the ballpark in his first season of retirement, Gregorius said they spoke during spring training and Jeter provided some soothing words.
“He said just relax and just play the game,” Gregorius recalled.
Acquired in December from Arizona as part of a three-team deal that sent right-hander Shane Greene to Detroit, Gregorius was a Jeter fan even before the trade. He paints and sketches for relaxation, and last October he tweeted a drawing of Jeter with the message: “Re2pect to the captain..... Had to draw it superstar.”
Mariekson Gregorius, born in Amsterdam and raised in Curacao, was signed by Cincinnati in 2007, made his major league debut with the Reds in 2012 and was sent to Arizona in a three-team trade that December. He hit his first big league homer at Yankee Stadium on April 18, 2013, against Phil Hughes and batted .252 that year, but he lost his job as a starter during spring training last year and was sent to the minors. Gregorius wound up batting .226 with six homers and 27 RBIs in 80 games for the Diamondbacks, including .137 (7 for 51) against left-handers.
“He’s been up and down. So forget the Derek part. You’re wanting to prove that you belong here every day and you’re an everyday player,” Girardi said. “That sometimes can make you do some funny things.”
Unlike Jeter, he arrived in New York with a title. No, not a World Series ring. He is Sir Didi, knighted a member of Order of Orange-Nassau after playing for the Dutch team that won the 2011 Baseball World Cup.
He was being called other names by fans after the opener against the Blue Jays. Gregorius tried to steal third base with two on, two outs and the Yankees trailing 6-1 in the eighth inning. Gregorius thought he could make it with the defense shifted against Mark Teixeira, but he was thrown out easily by Russell Martin.
Gregorius didn’t hear the lamentations of fans on talk shows.
“To be honest, I don’t listen to the radio,” he said. “It’s not going to help me with anything.”
His average dropped to .130 by April 13, but Gregorius has hit .286 since then. Before Tuesday night’s game, Gregorius received some tutoring at shortstop from Alex Rodriguez during batting practice.
“I think the first week he really tried to do too much, and I think he’s starting to settle in a little bit,” Girardi said.
Since the start of spring training, new Yankees hitting coach Jeff Pentland has been working with Gregorius on his swing. Pentland believes it “still gets big at times.”
“You’re just making some tweaks here and there: balance issues and keeping him on top of the ball, letting the ball get deep enough on him,” Pentland said. “Use the whole field.”
After a 3-6 start, the Yankees won 10 of their next 12 games to move into the AL East lead. Winning has relieved some of the outside pressure, giving Gregorius time to get established.
“If the team is doing well,” Teixeira said, “then everything else seems to kind of take care of itself.”