Yanks believe Didi's power is sustainable

Shortstop follows 20-homer 2016 campaign with solo shot in spring opener

Yanks believe Didi's power is sustainable

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Didi Gregorius stood in front of his clubhouse locker, pantomiming a wild uppercut swing that would have made Reggie Jackson proud. It's exactly what you'll never see the Yankees shortstop try at home plate.

Gregorius homered on the first pitch he saw this spring in Friday's 9-4 Grapefruit League victory over the Phillies, following up on a 2016 campaign in which he set a career high with 20 home runs. Yet Gregorius still insists that he absolutely, positively does not consider himself a power hitter.

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"Why do I think they're going out? Because they're going over the fence," Gregorius said, with a laugh. "I don't know."

Gregorius notes, correctly, that all of his home runs last season traveled out to right field; so, too, did his first-inning blast off the Phillies' Alec Asher, which traveled out of George M. Steinbrenner Field and landed on an adjacent highway. Eleven of Gregorius' 20 homers in 2016 were sent over the right-field wall at Yankee Stadium.

Yet the majority of Gregorius' hits were sprayed to left or center fields, owing to his approach to swing down and barrel the ball. He said that he has become better at turning on pitches when hurlers attempt to bust him inside, which might explain the recent jump in homers after hitting just nine in 2015 and six the year before that.

"I haven't changed anything in my swing, to be honest," Gregorius said. "I'm just trying to be consistent, working on stuff and try to get better. That's basically what I did the whole time. Hopefully, I do the same thing or even better."

One season after watching Gregorius also set career highs in hits (155), doubles (32) and RBIs (70) while leading the team with 54 extra-base hits, Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that he believes Gregorius' improvement is sustainable.

"I can't say that he'll hit 20 [home runs] -- there's always some things that have to go right -- but there's definitely power in there when you watch Didi play," Girardi said. "It came out last year, and I think that he can come close to that, repeat it and maybe even hit a few more."

Yanks hitting coach Alan Cockrell has said that he saw Gregorius' budding power even before the shortstop did, eyeing the 27-year-old's bat speed and leverage. Cockrell said that Gregorius has been able to shorten his swing and get the barrel where it needed to be, something that the Yankees hope he continues.

"Like I've been telling everybody, I'm not satisfied with last year," Gregorius said. "I always try to make adjustments and get better. That's part of the game."

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.