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Sir Didi's disappearing act: Gregorius' slump stumps Yanks

Didi Gregorius stepped back onto first base -- a place that has become foreign to him lately -- and looked into the New York Yankees' dugout.

Laughing, the slumping shortstop waved at his applauding teammates, wondering if they might ask the umpire for the baseball he'd just hit. After all, he'd reached a unique milestone; why not jokingly commemorate the occasion?

"I forgot what it's [like] to be on first base with a hit instead of a walk," Gregorius said.

Before he slapped that fifth-inning single through the left side of the infield during Saturday's home win over the Oakland Athletics, Gregorius had gone 30 consecutive at-bats without recording a hit.

But all joking aside, that single was just a blip on the radar. His slide has only continued, dipping now into a 1-for-41 slump entering Friday night's series opener in Kansas City.

What makes this rough stretch so remarkable is the timing. Gregorius was named the American League's Player of the Month for April, raising the question, with more than half of May now in the books: Where have you gone, Sir Didi?

The answer? He hasn't really gone far away at all.

While Gregorius hasn't been getting the hits he did during his scorching-hot March and April, there are signs he isn't faring as poorly at the plate as his now-plummeting batting average might suggest. Just don't try telling him that.

"I'm not happy with the at-bats," Gregorius said, "because I'm not helping the team."

Since soaring to a .372 batting average and a 1.303 OPS on April 25, he has bottomed out. Gregorius visits the Royals hitting .255 with an .880 OPS. By comparison, Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton, whose struggles have been well-documented this season, now has the same batting average.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone isn't reading too deeply into those numbers.

"I know he's going through a tough stretch right now, [but] I certainly don't believe it's as bad as the not getting hits," Boone said. "I do feel like there's been a fair amount of contact in there."

Typically, when players go into slumps, their contact numbers dip and their strikeouts rise. Look no further than Stanton's early-season problems, when he once had 16 punchouts in a six-game stretch. Whiffs were way more common than that loud thwack! of his bat.

Strikeouts haven't been as big a problem for Gregorius, who still has just 22 all season. Although he has been K'd nine times in his past 13 games, that figure also includes a three-strikeout showing against Houston's Charlie Morton. That night Morton was virtually unhittable, striking out 10 in a two-hitter he took into the eighth.

"It's not like I'm going out striking out 40 times in 60 at-bats," Gregorius said. "I'm just not getting hits."

Consider Gregorius' batting average on balls in play. In March and April, his BABIP was .289. So far this month, it's .133. Although he's making contact, he isn't getting the ball to fall.

Still, according to Statcast averages, Gregorius has been hitting the ball roughly as hard as he was before. During his torrid start, Gregorius had an average exit velocity of 85.4 mph. This month, he has essentially matched that, at 85.2 mph.

"If you look back at a lot of our games of late, there's been two or three times in a game where he's really stung the ball," Boone said. "He's hit some balls good the other way pretty deep out there. He's lined into some trouble."

Gregorius' percentage of solidly batted balls and barreled balls is higher this season than in any of the four years Statcast has tracked that data. So not only is he still hitting the ball hard, he's hitting it harder this year than ever before in pinstripes.

One noticeable downturn comes on pitches thrown to the inner half of the strike zone. During the first month of the season, he owned that part of the plate, according to ESPN Stats & Information. On pitches to the inner half in March and April, Gregorius batted .476 (20-for-42) with a 1.815 OPS and nine home runs. All of those inside-pitch homers resulted in a steady stream of blasts over Yankee Stadium's short right-field porch. Nine of his 10 homers have been hit at home.

But since May 1, Gregorius has gone hitless (0-for-15) on pitches to the inner half of the zone.

Although Gregorius has had moments of frustration, he isn't too worried. He's quick to point out that he has been in slumps like this before (3-for-36 in 2013; 2-for-36 the year after). Because of that, he feels better equipped to handle this one.

Boone can tell.

"Didi, as I've talked about this whole year, he's such a ... just from the makeup standpoint, he's great. He loves to play. He's tough. He's prepared," Boone said. "He deals with all that baseball throws at you, and baseball's going to throw bumps in the road at you, even when you're in the middle of being a great player.

"That's just the nature of being a hitter, and being a ballplayer. You're going to have these occasional bumps in the road over the course of the season."

Bumps or not, the Yankees are anxious to get Sir Didi back to his April form. For that to happen, the metrics indicate there's really only one thing he can do: keep battering baseballs.
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