TAMPA -- Didi Gregorius has been here longer than most Yankees position players. The shortstop showed up about a week early to spring training, swinging and taking grounders at the team's training complex while pitchers and catchers started formal workouts.
"I'm ready to swing at the first pitch," Gregorius told teammates leading up to Friday's 9-4 win over the Phillies at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
He did. And the mighty cut gave weight to manager Joe Girardi's theory that Gregorius' newfound power was no fluke.
Gregorius ripped a solo shot off Philadelphia starter Alec Asher's first pitch with one out in the first inning Friday. The blast sailed over the wall in right-center field, a no-doubter that actually left the stadium and bounced toward Dale Mabry Highway behind it.
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Gregorius, who had never hit more than nine bombs in a season, clubbed a career-high 20 last year.
The Yankees need Gregorius' power to be for real. Only Starlin Castro (21 homers) and Gary Sanchez (20 homers) hit at least 20 bombs for the team last year and are still around.
Matt Holliday hit 20 in St. Louis, but it was a down year and he's 38 years old. Chris Carter his 41 for the Brewers, but he's expected to get only part-time at-bats at first base behind Greg Bird.
They hope to get pop from Aaron Judge, but it's possible he'll start the season at Triple-A. Same for Bird, who missed all last season with shoulder injury.
Gregorius downplayed this sudden strength.
"I'm not a power hitter," he said multiple times.
"I don't know," he added. "I"m just trying to put a good swing on it. That's what I'm trying to do. It's a long season. Trying to stay consistent the whole season."
Maybe Gregorius was being modest. Girardi said he believed the 26-year-old could keep it up.
"I do," Girard said. "I can't say that he'll hit 20. There's always some things that have to go right. But there's always power in there whenever you watch Didi play. But I do think he can come close to that, beat it and maybe even hit a few more."
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Gregorius said there's not much different about him. He said that while he may look like he's added muscle, his weight -- between 215 and 210 pounds -- hasn't changed from last year. He said his swing is the same as it's always been.
That's probably true. Hitting coach Alan Cockrell, however, said in late 2015 that the team was working with Gregarious to shorten his swing and flatten it out.Aroldis Chapman almost hits prospect throwing BP, signs autographs Brendan Kuty may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BrendanKutyNJ. Find NJ.com Yankees on Facebook.
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