Power surge a welcome but unintended part of Didi Gregorius' evolution

TAMPA -- Three seasons ago, Didi Gregorius was given an unenviable task: succeed Derek Jeter as the shortstop of the New York Yankees. The Yankees have played exactly 500 official games since Opening Day 2015, but in that time, Gregorius has already done something neither Jeter, nor any Yankees shortstop throughout history, ever did: hit 25 home runs in a single season.

Didi did that last season, a year in which he missed almost the first month of the schedule due to injury, but if you ask him, it's just another piece of the stat line that happens.

"I'm not worried about breaking records; I just go out there and play the game, and if it happens, it happens," he said at Yankees media day. "I'm not trying to over-exaggerate things, I'm just trying to do things the right way. At the end of the day, I don't really worry about all that stuff, because winning is the most important thing and that's what I focus on."

So he finished third on the team in home runs last season, but he's not a home run hitter?

"No -- I just try to hit line drives, and hit it wherever it's pitched," Gregorius said. "If it's inside, I'll probably have to pull, and outside, I try to go the other way. It all depends on how they pitch me, and I just try to find a gap."

There is, however, a secret to the power surge that has seen Didi go from nine to 20 to 25 homers in his three seasons in pinstripes.

"I've been swinging heavier and heavier bats every year," he admitted, "and in the offseason, I just try to work on making that swing short and quick, trying to keep the bat in the zone as long as possible to make more contact and keep the ball up as much as I can."

Didi technically finished with 28 dingers last season, and his final three were undoubtedly huge; his three-run shot in the Wild Card Game quickly brought the Yankees back from an early deficit, but it's the pair he hit in Game 5 of the ALDS against perennial Cy Young candidate Corey Kluber that stick out most.

"He got the first two guys out quickly, so I knew I needed to try to get on base," Gregorius recalled of the first homer, "and with two strikes, I got to put a good swing on a fastball. The second one, he threw me a curveball that stayed just a little bit up, and I got the barrel to it."

That game was just the second time in his career Didi homered twice in the same contest -- with the first having just come during the 2017 regular season -- and it's a moment he'll never forget.

"I mean, in that moment, it was just unbelievable, you know?" he said. "To have the first two times come in the same season, and the second one in such a big spot…that's one of the big ones for me."

Heading into 2018, the Yankees are even more powerful, with the addition of Giancarlo Stanton and the thought of a full season of Greg Bird leaving many wondering if the team will set a single-season MLB record for homers.

Many are also wondering where all these boppers will hit, and to put it into perspective, it's possible that Gregorius, who hit everywhere between second and eighth last season but had more starts in the cleanup spot (42) than anywhere else, could regularly be hitting in the bottom third of the order.

For all he cares, he could be the regular No. 9 hitter, as long as he's a regular.

"I don't really know where I'll be, probably the bottom part, to be honest," Gregorius said, "but as long as I'm in the lineup somewhere I'm happy. That's all that matters to me."

And wherever it is, Didi will just keep working, and hopefully, keep improving.

"I never put limits on my work," he said. "I always say there is always room for improvement so, I always have to keep working, and keep trying to get even better."