Gregorius thriving in DH role for Netherlands

Gregorius thriving in DH role for Netherlands

TOKYO -- Didi Gregorius knows how it works. When he and Andrelton Simmons play on the same baseball team, Simmons is the shortstop.

It was that way when they were kids growing up in Curacao. It's that way now that they are stars who are trying to lead the Netherlands -- which beat Israel, 12-2, Monday -- to a World Baseball Classic championship.

Simmons is the shortstop. Gregorius, for the first time in his life, is a designated hitter.

Gregorius looks the part, too, with a .429 batting average, five extra-base hits and eight RBIs in five games. Gregorius bats fifth for the strong Dutch team, and he doubled and homered Monday to help the Netherlands to a crucial win over Israel.

"He looks like he's been doing it 10 years," Netherlands manager Hensley Meulens said. "He's so athletic. He stays warm. He's such a good hitter. He's in the heart of the lineup, protecting [cleanup hitter Wladimir Balentien]. That's from being very, very unselfish."

Meulens appreciates it, just as he appreciates Xander Bogaerts volunteering to play third base and Jurickson Profar agreeing to play center field. Strangely enough in a country where kids grew up idolizing center fielder Andruw Jones, most of Team Netherlands' biggest stars play shortstop.

Gregorius didn't actually become a shortstop until he was 16 or 17 years old, after playing second base and third base as a kid while his buddy Simmons started at short. Gregorius has developed into a very good shortstop for the Yankees, but he understands that Simmons is one of the best defensive shortstops in the world.

Gregorius' RBI double

"I want to be on the field, but I'm happy with what I'm doing," Gregorius said.

Gregorius is happy for the chance to play again for his country. Gregorius didn't play in the World Baseball Classic in 2013, when a team that featured Simmons, Bogaerts and other talented kids surprised everyone by getting to the semifinals.

The Netherlands team is no longer a surprise, now that those kids and Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop are established stars in Major League Baseball. Gregorius fits right in, back with players he played with growing up.

"The last time I played with the team was in 2011 at the World Cup in Panama," Gregorius said. "That year, we won it. It wouldn't be bad to win again."

To have a realistic chance to do it, the Netherlands had to beat Israel. The Dutch lost a tough 11-inning game to Japan in Sunday's second-round opener, and they couldn't afford another defeat. They couldn't afford a repeat of the Japan game, when they went 3-for-16 with runners in scoring position and left 12 runners on base.

"We fell short [against Japan], but today was a new day," Gregorius said.

The Netherlands has one second-round game remaining on the schedule, at 11 p.m. ET on Tuesday against Cuba. Win that, and the Dutch will likely return to the semifinals.

Gregorius wasn't there the last time the Dutch made it. He'll be there if they get to Dodger Stadium for this year's final round. If he's there as a designated hitter, that's just fine. After years as Simmons' teammate, he knows how it works.

The World Baseball Classic runs through March 22. In the U.S., games air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. The tournament is being distributed internationally across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for games at Tokyo Dome, Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Mexico, Petco Park, as well as the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.

Danny Knobler is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.