PHOENIX — When the Diamondbacks acquired shortstop Didi Gregorius, general manager Kevin Towers compared Gregorius’ defense to that of "a young Derek Jeter."
It might have been an undersell.
D-backs bench coach and four-time Gold Glove winner Alan Trammell is not given to hyperbole, but he could not help but rave about Gregorius’ scoop and throw from deep in the hole in the seventh inning of a 5-1 victory Friday.
To balance things, Gregorius used his bat to make a difference Saturday.
His three-run home run broke a 2-2 tie in the last of the eighth inning, giving the D-backs’ a 5-2 victory over San Diego and assuring a series victory against a team they could catch for third place in the NL West.
Gregorius drove an 0-2 fastball into the front row of the right field seats to break a 2-for-39 slump.
As his fielding play Friday showed, Gregorius has no trouble separating his offense from his defense.
As his homer Saturday showed, his constant work in the batting cage can have its rewards.
Gregorius has been retooling his swing since spring training, and the process has included the expected stops and starts. At the same time, he has been an eager, attentive student. There were Gregorius and Jake Lamb, who hit his first major league homer Saturday, taking extra batting practice with hitting coach Turner Ward hours four hours before the game Saturday.
"I would say, about time," Gregorius said of his home run. "I’ve been working, getting better, going down in the cage every day, just trying to make improvements. Luckily, I got one right there."
He has not let the dry spell bring him down.
"Just go at-bat by at-bat, don’t worry about it. I can’t change it. I don’t really think about it. Just go out and play the game. Don’t drag one at-bat to the next one," Gregorius said.
His perseverance has not gone unnoticed, so much so that the shortstop battle won by Chris Owings last spring is beginning to look like another open competition entering the 2015 season.
"He’s worked very hard. He hasn’t had instant gratification or instant results, and it is good to see that happened to him tonight," Arizona manager Kirk Gibson said. "He’s made some changes and he hasn’t been rewarded much, but tonight it came through for him."
One of Gregorius’ major selling points is his glove, the part of his game that was evident when he was promoted to the D-backs early last season after a hand injury sidelined second baseman Aaron Hill for 10 weeks. It is one of the reasons the Yankees, among many others, have had scouts watching him this season as Jeter finishes up.
Gregorius is most proud of the diving, full-extension stop and throw from his backside to start a double play against Tampa Bay here last season, and those who saw that still smile when they remember it.
"Everybody in the bullpen jumped out of their chairs, screaming and going nuts. It was unbelievable," D-backs reliever Brad Ziegler said.
The play Friday was similar. Gregorius went far into the hole at shortstop, almost behind third baseman Lamb, to field a sharp grounder by Jedd Gyorko. Gregorius gloved the ball and in one motion, without stopping or planting his feet, whipped a throw to that hit first baseman Mark Trumbo’s glove chest-high.
"I was astonished," Trumbo said.
When looking at the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Gregorius, Trammell sees the evolution of the position.
"These guys, including Didi, it’s a different breed now," said Trammell, who won who Gold Gloves in Detroit in 1980-81 and 1983-84.
"They’re better. They’re more athletic. The plays on the run that we are seeing like Didi’s, that’s definitely one of the best plays I’ve ever seen, especially with the amount of velocity (on the throw). It wasn’t a balloon over there. He is going full speed the opposite direction, not stopping, throwing the ball on the run, on a line. It was an incredible play.
"I don’t know if I’ve ever seen one better."
When Gregorius was a teenager at a tryout camp in the Dominican Republic, his velocity was registered at 94-95 mph on a throw from right field to third base.
When he saw the throw heading right at Trumbo’s mitt Friday, he just kept running toward the D-backs’ dugout. When he got to the dugout, his teammates made jokes.
"The guys say funny things. Yesterday they told me at least make it look a little bit harder," Gregorius said.
"I just laugh."
It has been that kind of weekend.
The D-backs dugout gave rookie Jake Lamb a 45-second silent treatment following his first major league home run in the second inning. Lamb played along with it nicely, putting up some air high-fives as he entered the dugout and made his way to a seat at the far end of the bench.
"I went in there and saw nobody was around," Lamb said. "I like to have fun. I started giving high fives to nobody."
A short while later, everyone on the bench crowded around him to celebrate.
99 — Career saves by Addison Reed
*Again, Vidal Nuno deserved better. He allowed five players to reach base in 7 1/3 innings — two singles, two walks and a hit batsman — but was left with a no-decision when two of his inherited runners scored in the top of the eighth inning to tie the game at 2. Despite a 3.54 ERA, he is 0-3 and winless in nine D-backs’ starts, extending a franchise record for starters. "It’s part of the game. I just try to go deep in ball games. I’ve just been unlucky," Nuno said. "I’ll keep on fighting, and one day I’ll get it."
*Chris Owings started at second in his rehab game at Triple-A Reno on Saturday and will see occasional time at second base when he returns to the major leagues in a week or so, manager Kirk Gibson said. "I just have a curiosity," Gibson said. "I know he can play short. We have some games left here in the last month. Why not put him over there at second as well? We played him over there in spring training as well. You’re looking ahead at who might be where (in 2015). It is a possibility." Owings, Gregorius, Aaron Hill, Cliff Pennington and minor leaguer Nick Ahmed give the D-backs deep depth in the middle infield, furthering the notion that an offseason trade with come from there.
*Addison Reed pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his 30th save and is on a good run. He has converted his last 10 save attempts, tying a career high set with the Chicago White Sox from Aug. 6-27, 2013.
The D-backs seem more and more likely to go to a six-man rotation in September, and Randall Delgado could make some starts down the stretch, Gibson said. Delgado has made progress on his third pitch, a breaking ball, and has shown flashes. "If you gave him a chance to start, would it help him be able to work his way through and have more consistency?" Gibson said. "That question hasn’t been answered yet. but those are things we think about."