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Didi Gregorius hits two HRs as Yankees blank Nationals

Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius celebrates his second-inning home

Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius celebrates his second-inning home run against the Nationals with Aaron Hicks at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Didi Gregorius’ April made him an early-season MVP candidate.

His season quickly spiraled from there as a mostly horrendous May followed.

June had been a tad better but the power from April was still MIA.

That changed in a loud way Tuesday night as Gregorius homered twice off Tanner Roark in a 3-0 victory over the Nationals in front of 44,220 at the Stadium.

“Hits are falling, that’s one thing that’s definitely changed,” Gregorius said with a laugh, comparing this month to May.

The Yankees (43-19), who also got 5 2⁄3 scoreless innings from CC Sabathia, are 34-10 since their 9-9 start. Aroldis Chapman retired the side in order in the ninth for his 18th save.

Sabathia (4-1) continued to be a stopper. The 37-year-old, who improved to 11-0 with a 2.55 ERA in 17 regular-season starts since the start of 2017 after a Yankees loss, allowed four hits and three walks, striking out three.

Sabathia, who recorded his 1,500th strikeout as a Yankee in the fourth inning, departed to a standing ovation after Michael A. Taylor reached on an infield single with two outs in the sixth.

“He was really good again,” Aaron Boone said.

An interesting side story took place in the eighth when Dellin Betances hit Bryce Harper with an 0-and-2 breaking pitch on a left toe. Harper, who in the past has expressed his love of the Yankees growing up but was booed each time he came up Tuesday, staggered halfway up the first-base line before walking back toward the dugout, taking himself out of the game. Afterward Harper, whose club slipped to 36-28, said he was OK.

Regardless, this night belonged to Gregorius, whose outburst gave him 13 homers and made him the first shortstop in franchise history to record three multi-homer games in the same season.

Gregorius hit .330 with a 1.161 OPS, 10 homers and 30 RBIs in April, only to hit .151 with a .401 OPS, one homer and five RBIs in May.

But he put the Yankees up early, hammering a 1-and-1 curveball from Roark (3-7), with one out in the second, his first homer since May 23. He added his second, a second-deck shot, in the sixth to make it 3-0.

“I don’t know if he’ll ever have a month like April where it was just homer after homer,” said Boone who, along with hitting coach Marcus Thames, took note of Gregorius’ batting practice session before Tuesday’s game in which he looked especially strong. “I felt like at times when he was scuffling, he was chasing hits a little bit.”

Boone mentioned Gregorius, now 13-for-44 (.295) over his last 12 games, having better balance at the plate in recent weeks, something the shortstop mentioned as well.

“Sometimes you get off-balance, I think every hitter does,” Gregorius said. “But just that quick you can get out of it. Mine took forever to get out [of], but it’s just things that happen in the game.”

Gregorius said it was difficult struggling as long he did but he took heart in watching others — such as Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, Brett Gardner and Miguel Andujar, just to name a handful — who at various points carried the club.

“If it was just about one person than the team would not be doing well,” Gregorius said. “But everybody picks each other up. That’s one thing we always have here, one guy’s struggling today but then tomorrow or the same day, somebody’s going to pick him up.

“That’s the thing about our team, it’s not just the top that can do damage. It’s the top, middle, bottom. Everybody’s helping each other out to get a ‘W.’ And you have to give credit to pitchers, too, because they’re doing a hell of a job.”

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