ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Didi Gregorius listened this week as a reporter asked him how he's maintained such an impressive tear.
The slugging shortstop and social media voice of the New York Yankees flashed one of his widest grins -- and spoke before the reporter could finish.
“So same question as yesterday,” he said, still smiling.
Yes, it was the same question as yesterday, and the day before that ... and the day before that, too.
The question keeps coming because Gregorius keeps hitting. A year after a World Baseball Classic injury forced him to miss nearly all of the opening month of the season, a healthy Gregorius leads the majors in RBIs (29) and OPS (1.245), is second in batting average (.354) and trails only Mike Trout in both home runs (9) and WAR (2.1).
In other words (and symbols) he’s: #lit, #flames, #onfire, 🔥, 💯.
As the Yankees open a key 13-game stretch Friday against the Angels, Astros, Indians and Red Sox, Gregorius has been scorching at the plate. His team has caught fire, too -- winning six in a row and 10 of its past 13 -- and all the W's have kept Gregorius busy on Twitter. Minutes after each victory, Sir Didi spreads the news with a game recap ... packed with the universal language of emojis.
#StartSpreadingTheNews yankees win Great start by Tanaka⏱ going 6+ innings ... 🍼 with his first major league hit... 👹 with solo homerun 🌋 with a solo homerun and 🚓 with a 2run homer .. 🔥🔥bullpen🔥🔥 all around great game ... WHAT A GAME!!— Sir Didi Gregorius (@DidiG18) April 24, 2018
One emoji you won't see in those colorful recaps? The crossing-sword symbol that represents the Netherlands-born ballplayer -- knighted after playing on the Dutch team that won the 2011 Baseball World Cup title. No matter how much Gregorius might have factored in a victory, he said he has no plans to refer to himself. The only emojis he uses are for his teammates.
“It’s the team,” Gregorius said. “If the team is playing good, I’m doing good. If the team is not doing good, then I’m not doing good. That’s how I look at it.”
Fans have eaten up the celebratory tweets, and the organization has, too.
As part of their in-stadium preview before the first pitch of games that follow wins, the Yankees post the Gregorius recap on the video board -- often forcing the team to fill in the blanks.
“You have to make a point by saying, ‘Hey, Didi is not there, and he’s not there for a reason,’” Yankees On Demand pregame host Justin Shackil said. “You’re obviously including what he said in the tweet, but you’ve got to give him props, as well. Because there’s been too many games now where he’s been right in the middle of the victory.”
This week alone, Gregorius has stroked two first-inning RBIs, hit a game-tying homer and launched a late grand slam to extend a hitting streak in his final at-bat.
He’s also the first Yankee since Babe Ruth in 1921 to hit .321 or better and have at least nine homers and 29 RBIs through his first 23 games of a season.
“The biggest thing is to just get some runners on when Didi’s hitting,” Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge said, laughing. “That’s the only thing we need to do.”
Manager Aaron Boone attributes the 28-year-old Gregorius’ early success to growing experience.
“We’re continuing to see the evolution of a really good player that I think takes a lot of pride in his craft and, at 28 years old, is kind of just entering those prime years,” Boone said. “This is a guy that has a great plan when he goes up to the plate.
“To see him come here [from Arizona via a three-team trade in 2014] and get better and better and better each and every year ... in a way, I’m not surprised.”
Gregorius examines reporters' questions almost as carefully as he studies opposing pitchers. When he was asked what emojis he’d use to assess the start of his season, he thought for a moment, then declined. Team first.
“If you guys want to do that, you can do that. I’m not going to tell you guys to not do that,” he said.
Well, since he gave us his permission:
Asked⚔️this week to give me a🤚for a🔥🔥🔥story on his emoji use. He said🙅🏾♂️. When I asked about his🔥🔥🔥April🔥🔥🔥, did what he always does: left⚔️out of it, instead praised🤡👨🏽⚖️🌋🐙👹🚓🍼for getting on around him, &🎅🏾👦🏾⏱🦃☀️🔥bullpen🔥for pitching well— Coley Harvey (@ColeyHarvey) April 27, 2018
Gregorius spent more than three weeks on the disabled list at the start of last season, rehabbing from a sprained right shoulder he suffered while playing for the Netherlands in the WBC.
As soon as Gregorius was cleared to return -- a year ago Saturday -- he went on a stretch similar to the one he’s been on this season. Through his first 24 games last season, Gregorius batted .330 with an .833 OPS and 11 multihit games. The only difference? His power numbers. He kicked off 2017 with a more modest three homers and 17 RBIs.
“I was feeling good when I finally got my chance to get back,” Gregorius said. “From then, I just tried to get on base for the guys.”
Lately, he's done a lot more than that.
Gregorius’ defense -- highlighted by plays like his charging, barehanded grab to nail the Twins’ Eduardo Escobar on a bang-bang play to end Wednesday night’s game -- has had his teammates singing his praises. So have his heady baseball instincts, also on display this week against Minnesota, when he dropped down a push bunt for single against the shift.
He’s certainly helped fans turn the page after saying goodbye to the guy who played shortstop in the Bronx before him.
“What he’s done in taking over for arguably one of the best shortstops to ever play -- and we don’t even bring him [Derek Jeter] up anymore because Didi has been that good -- you’ve got to give him a lot of credit in what he’s been able to do taking over in that spot,” veteran Yankees lefty CC Sabathia said.
“He’s the anchor of our team.”
Maybe Gregorius deserves two emojis.
Best things I've learned on Yanks beat came from⚓️⚔️:— Coley Harvey (@ColeyHarvey) April 27, 2018
🍼=Torres#BigToe =Torreyes#BillyThe🤠 =McKinney