No Derek Jeter? No problem.
Didi Gregorius might have been the most scrutinized new Yankee at spring training after being tabbed to replace the retired iconic shortstop. He hit .226 in a platoon role for the 2014 Diamondbacks. What did the Yankees see in him that made him the choice to replace Jeter?
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They apparently saw the everyday shortstop on a playoff team, which is what he became when the Yankees beat the Red Sox, 4-1, Thursday night at the Stadium and clinched a wild-card berth.
Gregorius turned an inning-ending double play in the third with two runners on and the Yankees leading 2-0. He was 1-for-2 with a stolen base and drew a second-inning walk to move a runner into scoring position and set up Brendan Ryan's RBI single.
When Brian Cashman consummated the three-team deal in December that sent serviceable righthander Shane Greene to Detroit and put Gregorius in pinstripes, it wasn't to match Jeter's body of work. But without question, he has been an upgrade over the 2014 version of Jeter in the field and at the plate. Jeter ranked 11th among American League shortstops in Wins Above Replacement in 2014, according to FanGraphs; Gregorius is second in the AL this season and is hitting .263 with nine homers and 54 RBIs.
"He's played as well as any player we have," manager Joe Girardi said. "We're really pleased with where he's at. I still think there's room for more growth; I think he's even going to get better . . . I don't think the organization would have given up Shane Greene if we didn't feel we were getting a very good player back."
Being acquired by baseball's most storied franchise brings expectations, and the 25-year-old Gregorius had to cope with replacing one of the all-time greats. "This is what people all wanted to talk about, so that's what we talked about," he said. "But for me this was just a big opportunity, getting to play every day."
It was a rough start. He hit under .210 most of the first two months and made six of his 13 errors. The scrutiny intensified. But he's hit .301 with five home runs and 35 RBIs in 66 games beginning July 23 and has displayed outstanding range and a strong arm in the field. "I was learning and improving and getting more comfortable," he said.
"It just took him some time to go through some growing pains," Girardi said. "Each month, he seemed to get better and better and better to where he's playing great."
The lefthanded hitter also has improved against southpaws. He is batting .250 against lefties compared with .152 in his first three seasons. "[Girardi] showed faith in me and it was a matter of getting the chances," he said. "The more lefties I saw, the better I understood how to hit them."
"The more I talked to the veteran players, the more I knew what to expect."
No one knew what to expect when Gregorius started, but they have to like what they've seen.