Gregorius in the swing of things with new stance
PHOENIX — Didi Gregorius has a knack for dramatic entrances. He has followed the same script both times the Diamondbacks have summoned him to the majors the last two years.
Same phone call.
Same plane flight.
Same first-at-bat home run.
It happened in Yankee Stadium on the first pitch of his first at-bat of the 2013 season last April, and he did it again in Coors Field this May. Each was a no-doubt drive over the right-field fence.
Look carefully, though, and there are differences.
Gregorius changed his stance and hitting approach. He is wider and lower as he stands in the batter’s box, and his swing is more compact. As a result, his bat stays through the hitting zone longer.
"Just trying to make contact, that’s the basic thing," Gregorius said.
"It’s nothing like, ‘Wow,’ or anything. It’s just what you have to do, make little adjustments. I am trying to get less movement and trying to find an easier way â¦ I’m a little wider. Just keeps my head in there. That’s all I am trying to do. That’s the main thing."
Gregorius has made it work in the 10 days heâs been back in Arizona after he was recalled from Triple-A Reno when Cliff Pennington went on the disabled list June 3. It is Gregorius’s second stint with the D-backs this season. He made the trip to Australia for the two-game series against the Dodgers before he was optioned to the minor leagues.
D-backs hitting coach Turner Ward left Gregorius with some suggestions as spring training ended, and Reno hitting coach Greg Gross helped Gregorius both implement and then feel comfortable with the adjustments and their newness. With the wider stance, Gregorius cuts the length of his front-foot stride as the pitch approaches, turning it into almost an up-and-down move similar to the one players such as former Houston first baseman Jeff Bagwell found successful.
"It started down in Reno. We were just talking, all the guys just giving their opinion and trying to help each other out," Gregorius said. "It helped me in Reno, so I am trying to keep the same thing up here. I’m still trying to make adjustments and go day by day with it."
Gregorius is not a power hitter, but he became the first player in franchise history to hit leadoff home runs in back-to-back starts when he followed his homer in Colorado on June 4 with one leading off the bottom of the first inning against Atlanta on June 6.
"He has a little bit of a different setup, of course, but this whole game is about making adjustments," Ward said. "One day you might be a little lower. One day you might be a little higher. Those kind of adjustments keep coming and going.
"More than that, it’s the swing path I see. A more consistent swing path, and his bat staying flatter all the way through the ball. To me, that’s the most important thing. It doesn’t matter if you are down in your legs a little bit or stand a little taller, but when you can maintain a path you can have more consistent ‘ABs.’ Those are things he incorporated himself. The mechanical things of staying on the ball and staying through it are things he’s really worked on."
Gregorius was heavily scouted in spring training, when both New York teams took a look at a possible trade, and he has done nothing but help his stock recently. Not only does the new hitting approach help, but he also has made what appears to be a seamless conversion to second base after spending his entire career as a shortstop. Gregorius played 38 games at second base and 19 at shortstop in Reno this year, tag-teaming with another top infield prospect, Nick Ahmed.
"He’s fine" at second base, D-backs manager Kirk Gibson. "He’s athletic. He hasn’t played a ton (there), but he’s got a lot of range. Very athletic. Can throw from all angles. He’ll be good. He likes playing second as well. He told me it was fun playing with Nick down at Triple-A, who I get rave reviews on him. We have some pretty good shortstops around here. He’s another one who is certainly a part of our depth."
Gregorius’ biggest hurdle with the D-backs may be playing time. With rookie Chris Owings off to a strong start and second baseman Aaron Hill packing a strong resume, playing time appears to be limited on either side of the bag.
Gibson has done his best to keep Gregorius involved. He has started three games at shortstop and two at second base since his return, once at second when Hill was given a day off and the other time Thursday, when Hill was used as the designated hitter in a 5-4 loss in Houston. Gregorius had a sacrifice fly and scored a run after being hit by a pitch Thursday, and he also hit a line drive to the warning track in left field that was caught on a nice play by left fielder Robbie Grossman.
"He’s had a great attitude since he’s been down to Reno," Gibson said. "I want to keep him involved. Don’t want him to get stale."