Torres tightens bond with 'big bro' LeMahieu

March 23rd, 2021

TAMPA, Fla. -- As packed his bags for Spring Training, the Yankees' shortstop delivered a special request to the coaching staff. On the back fields, in the batting cages and everywhere else, he wanted to be paired with as frequently as possible.

Attempting to wipe the slate clean after a season that he viewed as disappointing on both sides of the ball, Torres loved the idea of absorbing some of LeMahieu’s single-minded, blue-collar demeanor. The result has been a Yankees double-play combination that is growing closer than ever.

“That first year, DJ was a man of few words,” Torres said. “Now he’s really open with me. I feel like he’s my older brother. I feel really confident right now playing with him. We have the best conversations. DJ is a really complete player. He just wants to win games.”

There are few better paths to follow league-wide than one forged by LeMahieu, a three-time Gold Glover and three-time All-Star whom manager Aaron Boone has called the team’s most valuable player two years running.

Torres was ecstatic when the 32-year-old LeMahieu inked a new six-year, $90 million contract with the club, coming off a season in which LeMahieu led the league in batting average (.364), on-base percentage (.421), OPS (1.011) and OPS+ (177) during last year’s shortened campaign.

“DJ has done everything in both leagues; National League and now in the American League,” Torres said. “He’s amazing. If he does something, I need to learn the same things he is doing. I think there’s nothing better than to have DJ’s example, so I just try to learn everything possible.”

It was a tough shell to crack. LeMahieu guarded his words -- both with his teammates and the media -- during his first season with the Yankees in 2019, part of the reason that catcher Gary Sánchez nicknamed him “The Machine.” While LeMahieu has grown more comfortable in his surroundings, he’ll never be the loudest conversationalist in the room.

After LeMahieu conducted a tight-lipped Zoom interview earlier this spring, director of media relations Jason Zillo joked that they had six years to get LeMahieu ready to host a radio show, to which LeMahieu smirked. Torres may be one of the few exceptions. He referred to LeMahieu as his “older brother,” a role that LeMahieu does not seem to mind.

“He mentioned to me this spring that he wanted to pick my brain a little bit,” LeMahieu said. “Just kind of, ‘Let’s work together this spring more.’ And we got to know each other better and we’ve really worked a lot this spring. He’s working hard and he’s doing really good, so I’m excited to see him finding his legs in his routine.”

Early in his big league career, LeMahieu remembers looking around the Rockies' clubhouse to veterans like Michael Cuddyer, Todd Helton, Justin Morneau and Troy Tulowitzki, patterning his actions after theirs.

“Gleyber is kind of at that stage a little bit,” LeMahieu said. “He doesn’t need me, by any means, but it always helps to have someone to bounce stuff off of, and I think that’s what he’s looking for. I’ve enjoyed getting to know him and working with him.”

LeMahieu doesn’t mind his stoic reputation, but behind the scenes, Boone said that LeMahieu “gets his point across a little more than people might think.” He observed that LeMahieu and Torres have been “absolutely joined at the hip” throughout this spring, including on the road.

“They’ve pretty much played every single day together,” Boone said. “If there’s been a trip, they’ve both been on it together, and that’s by design. Gleyber’s driving that; from the start of camp, Gleyber said, ‘Put me with DJ at every turn,’ which I love.”

Torres said that investing in a stronger relationship with LeMahieu has already proven valuable. They engaged in numerous deep chats throughout last season and the playoffs, ranging from how to approach that day’s opposing starter to LeMahieu’s plan in the batting cage or his opinion on the best glove size to play various infield positions.

“When DJ and I are talking about baseball, it’s amazing,” Torres said. “During the game, every inning, every at-bat, every ground ball -- I’m just asking what he sees and what he feels. That is the way I feel I can improve my defense and get better every day.”