There are many ways to measure how far Didi Gregorius has progressed in his time as a Yankee: His .347 batting average this season, which leads the team; his eight home runs, more than Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton have; or his .787 slugging percentage, highest in the major leagues.
But perhaps the most telling fact is that, after three-plus seasons as the Yankees’ everyday shortstop, Gregorius’s name is rarely, if ever, mentioned in the same sentence with that of his predecessor, one Derek Jeter, who held the job for 20 years.
While Gregorius has not, of course, erased Jeter’s name from the memories of Yankee fans, he has at least established himself as a star shortstop in his own right, especially with his blistering start to the 2018 season. And the comparisons to Jeter, the former captain who is now reshaping the Miami Marlins as their chief executive, have faded.
In a lineup featuring two sluggers who combined for 111 home runs last season, Gregorius’s bat has been the most dangerous in the Yankees’ order this season. He drove in three runs in the Yankees’ 8-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday night, one with a third-inning single and two more with his home run in the fifth inning. His 27 R.B.I. not only lead the team, they are nine more than that of the runner-up, Gary Sanchez.
He has steadily improved at the plate ever since a difficult first month as a Yankee in 2015, in which he batted .206 and made a number of mental mistakes on the basepaths. He hit a career-high 25 home runs last season, and seems to have the Yankees’ shortstop job locked up for as long as he wants it.
“We’re just continuing to see the evolution of a really good player,” Manager Aaron Boone said of Gregorius’s performance this year.
That evolution is most readily apparent when Gregorius, a left-hander, faces left-handed pitching. When he was with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2014, he batted just .137 against lefties, but that has steadily improved; this season, he is batting .333 against them.
And he is showing signs of becoming a more selective hitter; after having walked just 19 times in 2016 and 25 times last year, Gregorius has already drawn 15 walks in 22 games this season.
“He’s continued to make adjustments,” Boone said. “He’s coming off a great year last year but to really control the strike zone has been the next step in continuing along as being a really, really good player.”
Despite the legitimate sluggers in the Yankees’ lineup, Gregorius has batted cleanup 12 times, more than any of his teammates — although Boone last week moved him up to third while moving Stanton down to fourth, an effort both to jump-start the struggling Stanton and to insert a left-handed hitter between Stanton and Judge, both right-handers.
The lineup shake-up has shown some promising, if minor, results. Stanton, despite a three-strikeout performance on Tuesday, showed signs of life on Monday with a four-hit game that included a homer, and on Tuesday Judge hit a long home run in the Yankees’ three-run seventh inning. And in a development that could portend even more devastating results in the near future, Sanchez, who came into Tuesday’s game batting just .192, went 2 for 4 with a pair of home runs, including one that traveled an estimated 436 feet.
In his second start since a brief stint on the disabled list with a hip injury, C.C. Sabathia worked six innings of two-hit ball, allowing an unearned run in the first when Aaron Judge bobbled Eduardo Escobar’s double to right, allowing a run to score. Sabathia’s strikeout of Ryan LaMarre leading off the third inning was the 2,856th of his career, moving him ahead of the Hall of Famer Jim Bunning for 17th place on baseball’s all-time list. … Reliever Dellin Betances had another rocky outing, facing just three batters: He walked two, allowed a single and made a throwing error before Manager Aaron Boone replaced him with David Robertson. Betances was booed as he left the mound. … Third baseman Brandon Drury, on the disabled list since April 7 with migraines and blurred vision, took batting practice on the field before the game and will begin a rehab assignment with Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Wednesday. The Yankees hope Drury will be able to rejoin the team during their upcoming Anaheim-Houston road trip.