Kidney ailment hasn’t stopped D-backs’ Gregorius

PHOENIX — Didi Gregorius has played the kind of shortstop the Diamondbacks believed he could this season, and he has supplied more power than anyone could have been predicted. His arm and range have always been at the top of scouts’ scales, and he already as many home runs this year than in any of his previous four pro seasons.

At that, Gregorius remains a work in progress. He has developed into his role with even less playing time that his record indicates, because he missed about two months of the 2011 minor league season when a kidney ailment was discovered after routine testing that spring.

The results were startling, almost off the charts. Gregorius’ blood pressure was elevated, his cholesterol level was elevated and his protein level was elevated. The levels were so much above the norm that Major League Baseball even suspected he was on performance-enhancing substances, although further testing indicated he was not.

Gregorius was forced to stay off the field while recovering, and the immediate treatment required a dietary change prompted by a sobering warning from the Cincinnati Reds’ medical staff: vegetables or else.

“They wanted me to be a vegetarian for a little bit. If I wanted to stay alive, I had to do it, so I did it for about a week, a week and a half. You never know if it is going to get worse or not, so you have to change. You have to listen,” said Gregorius, remembering the conversation as if it were last week.

“They were surprised I was still walking around with no effects. They thought I was using something like steroids, so they had me tested for that. Everything came back negative. Then they found out I had a kidney malfunction. It doesn’t work 100 percent every time.”

Gregorius, 23, was as surprised as anyone with the severity of the diagnosis, although he had noticed a general lethargy after playing his first full minor league season, including winter ball, the year before.

“I was just tired for no reason. I’d wake up in the morning tired, go to bed early, wake up tired. Then they gave me pills for it and everything, but nothing worked until they found out what was going on. Then everything has been right since then. I had to take some medication and do some injections two times a week, but not anymore,” Gregorius said.

“Of course it was tough missing two months. I was weak for a little bit, but I gained my strength and started playing better.”

His only concession to the condition these days is to stay away from red meat, which in normal servings contains a little more protein than fish or fowl.

“They told me my body would produce so much protein that I don’t need to take in any more protein. I can’t eat red meat, so right now it is just fish, chicken and seafood,” Gregorius said.

It is working. Gregorius has became the regular shortstop in his first full season in the majors, although he was given the final two days off in the weekend series in San Francisco, with manager Kirk Gibson attempting to find the right spots for both Gregorius and veteran Cliff Pennington.

Part of it is matchups. Gregorius is hitting .309/.375/.473 against right-handed pitchers, with all five of his home runs and 18 of his 19 RBIs against them. The first came on the first pitch of his first at-bat this season, in Yankee Stadium against Phil Hughes on April 18, two days after he was summoned from Class AAA Reno to replace an injured Aaron Hill. Gregorius is hitting just .192 against lefties.

One scout rated Gregorius’ arm as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale, and he showed that immediately, making several remarkable plays in his first few games, non-routine plays that he makes look routine.

“I keep talking about his defense. His defense is going to be there every day. He makes them all look easy,” third baseman Eric Chavez said after Gregorius backhanded a chopper toward third and made a strong throw on the run for an out in the ninth inning of a 5-4 victory over the Brewers on July 13.

Gregorius also had a home run — his fifth, to go with two at Reno — and a game-winning single in the eighth inning of that game while playing in front of his family, which came in from Curacao for the weekend. He had seven home runs in each of the last two seasons.

This season has not been without its trials, either, though. A right elbow strain caused him to start the season on the disabled list, and 10 days after he was recalled, he was struck in the head by a fastball and forced to miss seven games while placed on the seven-day disabled list for concussions. Neither seems to have had much effect.

“You can tell he has some battle in him,” D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said.

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