MINNEAPOLIS — When the Yankees acquired Didi Gregorius in early December 2014, the idea was to ease the young shortstop into things.
“At the very least, we expect him to be utilized in probably a platoon with Brendan Ryan until he separates himself,” general manager Brian Cashman said at the time of the trade. “We think there is more in the tank there as he continues to develop . . . I think he’s exciting but, obviously, he’s not a finished product.”
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Not yet full two years into his career as a Yankee, the steps Gregorius has taken toward that end have been dramatic.
Other than a rough first month in 2015, Gregorius has been mostly terrific in the field, and he’s been somewhat of a revelation at the plate.
The 26-year-old came to the Yankees tagged as a player who simply could not hit lefty pitching — .184 with a .257 OBP in 163 at-bats against lefties when he arrived from Arizona — the reason for the platoon talk.
It has been some transformation, one that started the second half of last season and has continued this season.
Gregorius came into Friday night’s game leading all MLB lefthanded hitters against lefty pitchers with a .368 average (21-for-57). He has a .280/.314/.411 slash line overall, with six homers and 28 RBIs.
The 21st of those hits versus lefthanders came Thursday night, a tiebreaking three-run homer off Minnesota’s Fernando Abad, brought in specifically to face him.
Joe Girardi said he didn’t consider pinch hitting for Gregorius with the lefty coming in, something he did in 2015 but less so as the season wore on. Girardi said the thought no longer goes through his head at all.
“I think just seeing them, getting a chance to play against them,” Girardi said of Gregorius’ success versus lefthanders. “We picked some spots last year to give him time off against lefties and he kind of grew into it. He’s had really good at-bats against lefties the second half of last year and this year and it’s a big difference for us.”
Gregorius finished 2015 with a .247/.311/.315 slash line against lefties, a significant improvement over his previous career numbers, but not good enough, so he went to work in the offseason.
“You have to make adjustments to try and get better,” Gregorius said. “I made some adjustments when I’m facing lefties, trying to keep my front shoulder in as long as I can so I don’t fly open. The second half of the season last year, that’s when I kind of figured out everything hitting-wise.”
Is it to the point where he feels more comfortable against lefties than righties?
“You have to feel comfortable whoever you’re facing,” Gregorius smiled. “Whoever’s on the mound, that’s who you have to be ready for.”
Notes & quotes: Brian McCann, who got the night off as Austin Romine started in his place, has been slumping. Going into Friday, the 32-year-old had a .211/.320/.383 slash line with eight homers and 27 RBIs, but only two homers and nine RBIs in his previous 19 games (in which he’s slashed .098/.233/.235). “It’s not anything I can really put a finger on,” Girardi said. “He’s just not getting a lot of hits. I don’t see much different in him mechanically, but he’s just kind of going through a tough time.” . . . Michael Pineda enters Saturday’s start 3-7 with a 5.88 ERA but has been better his last three starts, allowing a combined six runs, which has brought his ERA down from 6.92. “I feel like he’s turned the corner,” Girardi said. “But that doesn’t mean that you can relax and let your guard down. You have to stay on top of things.”