Didi Gregorius’s Power Suddenly Returns, Twice, in Yankees’ Win
For the first month of the season, Didi Gregorius was hailed as a potential candidate for the American League Most Valuable Player Award. He had 10 home runs and eight doubles and was drawing favorable comparisons to his beloved predecessor, Derek Jeter.
Then came the slump. Gregorius hit only one home run in May, and from the beginning of that month through Sunday, he was batting only .177, with a dismal .226 slugging percentage. Even as his numbers plummeted, Gregorius said, he did not despair.
“No, I was just getting to know myself through that slump,” he said. “I always battle.”
Indeed, as quickly as his power seemed to shut down, it returned on Tuesday with a flourish. Gregorius hit two home runs to propel the Yankees to a 3-0 victory over the Washington Nationals, helping his team keep pace with the Boston Red Sox atop the American League East with an even 100 games to play.
It was the third multi-homer game of the season for Gregorius, who became the first Yankee to record that many as a shortstop — achieving a feat that eluded Jeter, Roy Smalley, Tony Kubek and Frankie Crosetti, all of whom did it twice.
Both home runs came off Tanner Roark with the bases empty, and the second gave Gregorius 13 homers on the season. He hit the first into the Yankees’ bullpen in the second inning, and then he blasted one into the second deck down the right-field line in the sixth. He was already the first Yankee shortstop with consecutive 20-homer seasons (he hit 20 in 2016 and 25 last year), and he is back on pace to make it three in a row.
Gregorius wasn’t ready to declare himself fully out of his slump, but he noted that with a lineup as deep as the Yankees.
“The team was doing good even though I was struggling,” he said.
Gregorius’s output helped propel C. C. Sabathia to his 124th win as a Yankee, pushing him into 12th on the list of Yankees pitchers, past Mike Mussina. Sabathia, 37, allowed only three hits in five and two-thirds innings and improved to 11-0 when pitching after a Yankees loss. In 17 such starts, Sabathia has allowed only 28 earned runs in 98⅔ innings for a 2.55 E.R.A., and he improved to 4-1 over all on the season.
But that didn’t mean Harper had a pleasant outing. On a night when the Nationals fell out of first place in the National League East, Harper was hit by two pitches, was forced out of the game and was booed by the crowd.
The second pitch to hit him, a curveball from Dellin Betances, struck Harper’s left big toe in the eighth inning and knocked him from the game, limping. Harper said that an X-ray had revealed no damage, and he indicated he would not miss any time because of it. He was also struck in the right elbow by Sabathia in the fifth inning and walked twice.
“The elbow feels O.K. and the big toe just hurts a little bit,” he said. “I’m fine.”
Harper, whose 19 home runs lead the National League, was making his first appearance at Yankee Stadium since 2015 and was playing in only his third game in the Bronx. He is one of the most feared hitters in the game and is also the subject of intense scrutiny about his future, as he is set to become a free agent at the end of the season. Some expect the Yankees will be among the teams trying to sign him in the off-season.
Before Tuesday’s game, Harper called the process “exciting” but gave no hints about whether New York held any special attraction to him.
“It’s just another city you play in,” he said.
Dave Martinez, the Nationals’ manager, said Harper was handling the situation well and not allowing it to become a distraction.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations about it, and I know one thing about Bryce: H e wants to win,” Martinez said. “He wants to win here.”
Even though he was sitting in an office in Yankee Stadium, Martinez meant, of course, that Harper wants to win with the Nationals. But winning at Yankee Stadium was not likely on a night when Sabathia and Gregorius were at their best.
Jonathan Loaisiga will be brought up from Class AA by the Yankees to make his major league debut against Tampa Bay on Friday night, in place of Masahiro Tanaka, who injured both hamstrings last Friday. Loaisiga, a 23-year-old right-hander, returned last year following Tommy John surgery, and is 3-1 with a 4.32 E.R.A. in six starts at Class AA Trenton.