The Yankees’ DJ LeMahieu watches batting practice during spring training at...

The Yankees’ DJ LeMahieu watches batting practice during spring training at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Thursday. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.


About midway through the conversation he was having, the bulk of it spent discussing his 2023 struggles, two-time batting champion DJ LeMahieu gently decided to steer the chat in a different direction.

“I don’t want to talk about last year anymore,” he said.

Apparently, the meter had expired on LeMahieu’s time for retrospection, and really, who could blame him for wanting to move forward?

The stoic LeMahieu doesn’t reveal much in the public view, good or bad, but on this day, he finally got to the point that he was through with the self-flagellation from earlier in the interview.

“Last year was really hard — for me and for the team,” LeMahieu said. “Overall, it was a really, really difficult year. It was really hard on me. But every time I’ve been knocked down in my career, it’s almost more exciting to come back from and overcome that, so I’m ready to go.”

And LeMahieu was down last season. Way down. Depths he’d never experienced before.

Through his first four seasons in pinstripes, LeMahieu hit a combined .296 with a 122 OPS-plus, and he led the majors with a .364 batting average in the COVID season of 2020. But the toe issues that derailed the end of his ’22 season seemed to haunt him into last season, when he hit a career-low .243, further stained by 125 strikeouts, his highest total (the previous high was 107 in 2015).

LeMahieu’s first half was so discouraging that only a few months short of his 35th birthday, it made some question if he would ever be the same player again — undone by injuries, with the body language of someone drowning in frustration. At the break, halfway through Season 3 of his six-year, $90 million contract, the three-time All-Star was hitting .220 with a .643 OPS.

The Yankees expected to see some degree of decline as LeMahieu moved through his mid-30s, but his elite contact skills figured to age well. It’s not as if he was dependent on speed. But the man nicknamed “LeMachine’’ seemed to be slowing down at the plate, as his .143 average against fastballs 95 mph or higher would attest.

That level of malfunction disrupted LeMahieu across the board, and it was a strange feeling not to be having much fun at the ballpark anymore.

“Definitely not,” he said. “You’re still in the major leagues, so you’re obviously grateful to be there. But to not perform the way you want to and help the team the way you want to .  .  . ”

That’s the moment when LeMahieu put up the verbal detour sign and decided it was time to switch gears. Put 2023 in the rearview mirror, so to speak. And the early impressions since his arrival in Tampa — he’s been at the Yankees’ player development site for most of the winter — have suggested that that version of misfiring Machine indeed could be history.

LeMahieu did generate some positive momentum by hitting .273 with an .809 OPS in last season’s second half, but the Yankees were on a road to nowhere by then.

With the Grapefruit League schedule kicking off this weekend, it’s not about getting back to being the same DJ but an improved version, LeMahieu 2.0.

“To me, physically, there’s an explosiveness now that is more in line with what he’s been when he’s been at his absolute best,” manager Aaron Boone said. “And I think part of that is, you’ve got to evolve and adapt in this game, especially if you’re going to have real longevity. As you get up in your mid-30s and you’ve had some injuries, you’ve got to attack those things.

“I think he’s done a great job of taking care of the physical aspect from a training standpoint, on top of just how well he prepares in the game itself. It’s early, but it certainly is showing.”

Although LeMahieu’s flexibility around the diamond at three positions is an asset — he’s won three Gold Gloves at second base and a fourth as a utility player — Boone plans to use him almost exclusively at third for the upcoming season.

Gleyber Torres has plenty of backup at second base. LeMahieu could see some fill-in duty for Anthony Rizzo at first, but this will be his heaviest workload at the hot corner, considerably more than the career-high 69 games at third he played last season.

But the Yankees aren’t sweating where LeMahieu stands with his glove. It’s all about him in the leadoff spot, as the igniter for the rest of this revamped, Juan Soto-infused lineup. Boone and Aaron Judge stressed the importance of having an upgraded Machine atop the order. Now that seems possible, with LeMahieu even cracking a smile at the thought.

“I feel like I’ve had a productive offseason,” he said. “I’ve done a lot the past four months to put myself in the best position to go.”

The sooner, the better. LeMahieu is in a hurry to put as much distance between him and last season as possible, until people don’t even bring it up anymore.

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