Didi singles in first two at-bats in return

June 8th, 2019

CLEVELAND -- Shortstop quickly made up for lost time in his return from Tommy John surgery, collecting two hits on Friday in his season debut before the Yankees fell, 5-2, to the Indians at Progressive Field.

Gregorius sharply singled on the first pitch he saw from Indians starter Zach Plesac but was thrown out by right fielder Tyler Naquin attempting to stretch it into a double. He added a single in his second plate appearance and finished the evening 2-for-4 with a strikeout.

“It was a really good day, even though we lost,” said Gregorius, who underwent the operation on his right elbow on Oct. 17. “I felt at home as soon as I came back. You try not to overthink anything, so you just go up there and follow your plan.”

The 29-year-old received loud -- and somewhat surprising -- cheers from the road crowd when he stepped up to bat in the second inning. The fans turned up the volume even more as he rounded first base, only to be nailed by Naquin's perfect throw.

Manager Aaron Boone had “no issue with that play at all,” noting that Cleveland needed “a perfectly executed play to get him out.”

“Yes, I was surprised when I saw that throw coming in,” Gregorius said, chuckling. “It was a perfect throw.”

Boone’s only disappointment was the lack of action Gregorius saw in the field, which was limited to tagging out Jason Kipnis on a caught stealing in the second and catching a popup by Jose Ramirez in the eighth.

Gregorius was activated from the 60-day injured list earlier in the day for his first action since the fourth and final game of the Yankees’ American League Division Series loss to Boston.

“I thought he looked really good out there swinging the bat,” Boone said. “It was a good first day for him to get in the flow.”

Gregorius tore the ligament in his right elbow while making a relay throw home in Game 2 of the ALDS at Fenway Park. He played the next two games before going under the knife.

Between then and now, he rehabbed the injury every day and even taught himself how to play the piano.

Gregorius purchased two pianos -- one for his home on Curacao, the other for his home in Tampa, Fla. -- and became proficient at playing John Legend’s hit single “All of Me.”

“If you spend the money on it, you better learn it,” he said prior to the game. “Everyone has talents. It’s up to you if you want to do it. I was learning a lot about myself while I was out.

“I’m not going to lie, I haven’t watched a lot of Yankees games, but it’s not like I was sitting around doing nothing while I was at home.”

Boone welcomed the return of Gregorius, who batted .156 with one homer and two RBIs during an eight-game rehab stint with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Class A Tampa.

So did his teammates, many of whom playfully eavesdropped on his pregame interview session.

“Didi is so easygoing and a joyful person, there is an energy around him,” Boone said. “We’ll bring him along slowly, but we feel like he’s ready -- and he’s obviously felt like he’s been ready since Spring Training.”

Boone will use Gregorius at shortstop two out of every three days for the short-term, but he does not have any medical restrictions governing his usage.

Gregorius, who is in his fifth year with the Yankees, hit .268 with a career-high 27 home runs and 86 RBIs in 2018. He is the only shortstop in franchise history with consecutive 20-homer seasons, having done so in each of the last three years.

“It’s been a long time, but trust me, it’s always good to be back to play,” he said. “No hiccups along the way. I’m ready to go.”

To make room for Gregorius on the 25-man roster, second baseman Thairo Estrada was optioned to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki was moved from the 10-day to the 60-day IL.

Up in the air

Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who was scheduled to start on Sunday, remains in New York with his wife following the birth of their first daughter on Friday.

Boone indicated that the Yankees are likely to place Tanaka on the paternity list and recall a pitcher from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to pitch against the Indians.

“I don’t think he’ll be going Sunday,” Boone said.

Leiter chooses Vandy

Right-hander Jack Leiter -- the son of former MLB pitcher Al Leiter -- has officially committed to playing at Vanderbilt.

Leiter was one of the top prospects in the Draft but fell to the 20th round because he was intent on continuing his career with the Commodores.

“I’m proud how he was so resolute & convicted with his choice and decision-making,” Al Leiter tweeted. “When there’s a fork in the road take it...he chose @VanderbiltU"

Injury update

• Infielder (sore left shoulder) was not in the lineup on Friday for the second straight game. Boone plans on using him on Saturday, when left-hander makes his final regular-season start in Cleveland.

“I’m still not overly concerned, and if we had to use Gleyber today, I’d have no problem doing it,” Boone said. “But we’ll give him another day to deal with the wear and tear.”

Torres, who made 52 starts at shortstop during Gregorius’ absence, will primarily shift to second base. Boone will also make room in the lineup for at first, second and third.