CLEVELAND – Any time Didi Gregorius and his faster-than-expected rehab process has been mentioned to Aaron Boone this season, a wide smile has broken across the manager’s face.
It was Gregorius who was all smiles Friday afternoon (although Boone presumably was pretty happy, too). After having elbow surgery last October, the shortstop made his 2019 season debut on Friday night against the Indians -- and lined a single into the rightfield corner on the first pitch he saw, although he was thrown out attempting to stretch it into a double. He also got a hit in his second at-bat.
“I’ve been telling you guys [I’m ready] since April,” Gregorius said before the game.
In his end-of-season news conference last Oct. 12, shortly after the Yankees fell to the Red Sox in the ALDS, general manager Brian Cashman dropped the bombshell that Gregorius would undergo Tommy John surgery to repair a UCL tear in his right elbow.
At that point it seemed a very real possibility that Gregorius’ entire 2019 season might be in jeopardy, with Cashman using “June, July or August” as a general timetable. But Gregorius, who flew to Cleveland on Thursday night after finishing a six-game rehab assignment with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, proved a quick healer.
“Obviously, having a serious, significant injury, the fact that everything’s kind of gone best-case-scenario as far as him rehabbing and getting well and being able to be in this position to return now is exciting for all of us,” Boone said.
If it had been up to Gregorius, of course, he would have returned much sooner.
“They put me on the 60-day [injured list], so there’s nothing I could do with that,” he said. “The doctor told me six to eight months, that’s the time they gave me to be back. Everything has been fine, everything’s been working the right way. So I have nothing else to worry about, basically.”
He went 3-for-25 in six games with Scranton, an irrelevant statistic to Gregorius, Boone and those who watched the shortstop’s at-bats.
“My swing has been good,” Gregorius said. “You can hit a ball 100 mph for an out or you get soft contact for a hit. Sometimes it doesn’t really add up.”
Gregorius, among the most respected and popular players in the clubhouse, was welcomed back.
“We’ve obviously played great without several of the guys that we’ve been missing, but to get him back healthy, ahead of schedule, to be getting him back before the All-Star break is great,” Brett Gardner said. “I know he’s itching to get back, but just what he brings on both sides of the ball, offensively, defensively, the flexibility. It’s going to really benefit us in the long run. Can’t wait to get him back, I know he can’t wait to be back, and looking forward to getting back after it with him.”
The Yankees have been a heavily righthanded-hitting lineup most of the season. The lefthanded-swinging Gregorius, a stud defender who hit .268 with 27 homers and an .829 OPS in 134 games last season, will help in that regard, too.
“Preferred but not necessary,” Boone said of the balance. “Ultimately you want good players and good hitters in there to make a lineup strong.”
Gregorius laughed when asked just how difficult the rehab process was, then disclosed something new. Known for his varied interests and talents – he is a budding professional photographer, for example, and speaks four languages (Dutch, Papiamentu, English and Spanish) – he picked up a new hobby while out.
“I bought a piano and started playing piano,” Gregorius said, adding that he taught himself. “So it’s not like it wasn’t productive.”
He said he can play one song: John Legend’s “All of Me.”
“Everybody has talents. It’s up to you what you want to do with it,” Gregorius said. “It’s not just staying with one thing. It’s the truth. If you’re sticking with just one thing, you’re not going forward in life.”