CLEVELAND (AP) — Didi Gregorius taught himself to play piano while recovering from elbow surgery.
The Yankees are counting on his other talents.
Eight months after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Gregorius was activated from the injured list and will start at shortstop Friday night as the AL East-leading New York opens a three-game series against the Indians.
Gregorius got hurt making a throw in last year’s Division Series against Boston and had surgery in October shortly after the Yankees season ended. He made a quicker-than-expected recovery and now rejoins a team that found a way to keep winning without him — and others.
Gregorius said he’s felt good enough to play since April, but there was no rush after the Yankees placed him on the 60-day disabled list.
“It’s always good to be back and playing, no hiccups,” Gregorius said. “Everything has been fine. I did everything the right way.”
While he was sidelined, Gregorius, who also paints, sketches and dabbles in photography, bought pianos for his homes in Curacao and Florida. He learned one song: “All of Me” by John Legend.
“I learned a lot about myself,” he said. “It’s not like it wasn’t productive. Everybody has talents. It’s up to you what you want to do with it. I always try to open up to anything new that I can learn.”
The 29-year-old Gregorius batted .268 last season with a career-high 27 homers and 86 RBIs. Beyond his offensive stats, Gregorius plays Gold Glove-caliber defense. His return balances a lineup missing several key players, including injured sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.
Manager Aaron Boone will ease Gregorius back by not playing him every day.
“We’re not going to run him out there several games in a row to start,” Boone said. “He’s played back-to-back once or twice in the field down there (in the minors). We’ll continue to build up that progression.”
Boone couldn’t wait to be able to pencil Gregorius’ name into the fifth spot on his lineup card.
“Didi’s just a gifted person,” Boone said. “He can do a lot of things in this world very well. He’s so artistic. Obviously, such a good player There’s an energy around him. There’s a joy he brings to field every day that guys gravitate to. He got dealt a pretty good hand.”
To make roster space for Gregorius, the Yankees optioned infielder Thairo Estrada to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and transferred shortstop Troy Tulowitzki to the 60-day injured list.
Judge and Stanton continue to make progress while training at the Yankees’ minor league complex in Tampa, Florida.
Stanton, who has been sidelined since March 31, homered to center, lined a ball deep to left and walked twice in six plate appearances Friday in an extended spring training camp game. He originally strained his left biceps, then his left shoulder. He played in one game for Class A Tampa on May 20, but was told to rest because of left calf tightness.
After Friday’s game, Stanton took batting practice with Judge, did defensive drills in left and right fields, and ran the bases.
Judge, who strained his left oblique muscle on April 20, resumed on-field batting practice Thursday.
Reliever Dellin Betances faced hitters this week for the first time in almost three months. He hasn’t pitched in a game since March 17 because of a right shoulder impingement.
AP freelance writer Mark Didtler in Tampa, Florida, contributed to this report.
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