Didi Gregorius busts out with 2 HRs as Yankees blank Nationals
If Aaron Boone wants an example to show Gary Sanchez that tough stretches at the plate don’t last forever, all he has to do is point to Didi Gregorius.
The AL Player of the Month for April endured a miserable May before starting to creep out of it late in the season’s second month. Now, 12 days into June, the shortstop is back to being a major cog in a Yankees’ lineup that hurts pitchers from almost any spot.
Tuesday night against the Nationals at Yankee Stadium, it was Gregorius swatting two homers to back the solid pitching by CC Sabathia and three relievers in a 3-0 Yankees victory that was witnessed by 44,220.
Gregorius had gone 59 at-bats without a homer when he batted in the second inning against right-hander Tanner Roark and sent a 1-1 pitch into the Yankees’ bullpen beyond the fence in right-center field for a 1-0 lead.
Four innings later, the left-handed hitting Gregorius lofted a 3-2 pitch into the upper deck in right field for a 3-0 advantage.
“The hits are falling, that’s one thing that is definitely changing,’’ said Gregorius, who is hitting .313 (15-for-48) in the past 12 games, and lifted his average from a season-low .230 up to .249. He had hit .060 (4-for-67) in his previous 16 games.
Always possessing a positive outlook, Gregorius believes his .151 average (14-for-93) in May, when he homered once, drove in five runs and posted a .401 OPS, served a purpose.
“It was getting to know myself through that slump, always battling,’’ Gregorius said. “Hits weren’t coming and I was hitting the ball hard. It’s a process and you trust it. Still not out of it.’’
The victory was the 43-19 Yankees 10th in 12 games and kept them percentage points ahead of the Red Sox in the AL East.
Sabathia posted his 1,500th strikeout as a Yankee in the fourth inning when Michael A. Taylor missed a 1-2 fastball. The veteran lefty didn’t give up a run in 5 ²/₃ innings in which he allowed four hits, walked three and stranded seven.
Sabathia’s second consecutive strong outing raised his record to 4-1.
“They have power. I moved the ball in and out and was aggressive in the strike zone,’’ said Sabathia, who received help from second baseman Gleyber Torres and Gregorius making over-the-shoulder catches in the outfield in the third and fifth innings, respectively. Torres was especially impressive since he avoided colliding with Aaron Judge, which would have been damaging to the much shorter infielder.
Chad Green, Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman provided 3 ¹/₃ innings of scoreless relief. Yankees relievers haven’t given up a run in 21 ²/₃ straight innings and have whiffed 30 batters in that span. Chapman recorded the final three outs for his 18th save.
Bryce Harper had a tough night. His wild throw to third helped the Yankees score a second run in the second. Sabathia hit Harper on his right elbow in the fifth and Dellin Betances got him in the left foot in eighth. Harper left the game after that.
Boone had a feeling Gregorius was going to continue a solid June before hitting two homers.
“I said something to [hitting coach] Marcus [Thames] in batting practice that it seemed crisper,’’ Boone said of Gregorius’ hacks. “The last couple of weeks he got through that tough stretch. I thought today he had a really good batting practice and the ball was jumping off his bat. When Didi is at his best, his feet drive into the ground, especially on the second one. He is strong into the ground and in a real powerful position.’’