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Didi's hot bat proving crucial for Yankees

Shortstop hits 8th homer, carving out own identity in 2nd year in New York
MLB.com

NEW YORK -- In Didi Gregorius' first season with the Yankees, he was constantly being reminded of his shortcomings. He was constantly being reminded who he wasn't.

"All the fans were cheering for [Derek] Jeter the whole game," Gregorius said, his voice slowing.

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NEW YORK -- In Didi Gregorius' first season with the Yankees, he was constantly being reminded of his shortcomings. He was constantly being reminded who he wasn't.

"All the fans were cheering for [Derek] Jeter the whole game," Gregorius said, his voice slowing.

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Gregorius acknowledged he'd likely always be known as Jeter's replacement. That's fine. But as he progresses through his second year with the Yankees, he's earning the respect of his peers for establishing his own identity. In the Yankees' 2-1 win over the Rangers on Thursday afternoon, Gregorius hit his second homer in as many games in addition to executing a key sacrifice bunt in the ninth inning.

"Sometimes you've just got to get adjusted," left-hander CC Sabathia said. "Every time he did something last year, he'd be compared to Jeter. He doesn't have that pressure this year."

Gregorius doesn't seem to be playing with any pressure now. He hasn't committed an error in more than a month and boasts a .290 batting average, the second highest among Yankees starters behind Carlos Beltran.

After hitting .265 last year, it's a significant jump. Plus, after tying Thursday's game at 1 with his fifth-inning blast, he's on pace to hit 18 homers, which would double last year's total.

For a Yankees offense battered by injuries, Gregorius' hot bat has been crucial.

Still, with a runner on first and no outs in the bottom of the ninth, manager Joe Girardi had Gregorius lay down a sacrifice bunt.

"I wanted to give us two chances to drive in a run, to guarantee two chances," Girardi said. "He could hit into a line-drive double play -- he could hit a rocket to the second baseman and it turns into a double play. So I just wanted to guarantee that we would have two chances. Yeah, is it a guy that you want swinging most of the time? Sure."

Gregorius said he was fine bunting, adding he'd do anything to help the team win. It was the type of diplomatic answer Yankees fans had grown accustomed to hearing from his predecessor.

Not that Gregorius cares for such comparisons. The 26-year-old from the Netherlands is determined to carve his own reputation in New York. The outside noise is just that -- noise.

"I'm not going to be like, 'OK, I did this play, Jeter did this,'" Gregorius said. "I'm focused on playing the game and controlling what I can control."

Joshua Needelman is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

New York Yankees, Didi Gregorius