Using a wide lens, Didi Gregorius looked fine, crushing a three-run homer and later adding a sacrifice fly as the Yankees once again took down the Orioles, 8-5, in Game 1 of Monday’s doubleheader sweep at the Stadium.
But if you narrow the focus, and zoom in specifically on Gregorius’ left hand, all is not perfect with the Yankees’ shortstop, who revealed afterward that his finger strain remains a lingering issue.
We admit it was nearly impossible to tell. Whenever someone in pinstripes sees the Orioles, there is a race for the bat rack. Just by showing up, the AL East doormat does more to remedy an opposing team’s ills than any doctor or trainer.
And Gregorius is no exception. He’s reached base in 34 straight games against the Orioles, hitting safely in 33 of them at a .381 clip, with nine homers and 32 RBIs over that span. But in the process of asking Gregorius about potentially using woeful Baltimore as a springboard, to become “Hot Didi” as Aaron Boone referred to him, the subject of his finger came up.
This season, being employed by the Yankees is a hazardous occupation, a job that usually involves at least one injury, and sometimes multiple trips to the injured list. Gregorius missed the first 61 games rehabbing from last October’s Tommy John surgery, but after a relatively seamless return — batting .271 with seven homers, 30 RBIs and a .769 OPS in 39 games — he suffered the finger strain fielding a ground ball in a July 31 win over the Diamondbacks.
The strain, between his left ring finger and pinky, doesn’t sound like a big deal on the surface. But it’s bothered Gregorius to the extent that he needs to frequently tinker with the left hand to be ready for the next pitch.
“If you haven’t noticed,” Gregorius said, “every time I take a swing I re-adjust the batting glove to make sure that everything stays in tight.”
It’s a small sample size, but in the eight games playing with the strain, Gregorius is hitting .229 (8-for-35) with a pair of homers, and four of his five RBIs during that period came in Monday’s win. He instantly wiped out the Orioles’ 1-0 lead off James Paxton with his first-inning blast, and the other Yankees soon followed, with Gleyber Torres, Gio Urshela and Cameron Maybin also going deep.
The streaky Gregorius tends to heat up quickly with such games, but those moments have been sporadic this season, which also happens to be his walk year in the Bronx. His signature moment so far was the 5-for-5, seven-RBI night in the Yankees’ 14-12 victory over the Twins on July 23. That catapulted him to 14 RBIs with a 1.124 OPS over the last eight games of July, right up to the finger injury.
Boone was hoping Monday’s Game 1 might create a similar spark.
“He hasn’t gone on one of those Didi hot streaks like we know he has,” Boone said. “ But I know he’s had that finger that he’s kind of grinding through like he always does. He’s real close, “I feel like he’s going to go on one of those streaks where he gets Didi hot and then those numbers start to fly..”
The Yankees don’t require Gregorius — or any one player, for that matter — to carry them this season. They’re getting help from every spot in the lineup, and plenty of unexpected places. So despite Gregorius’ damage to the Orioles in the opener, Boone didn’t start him for Game 2, no doubt being mindful of the finger issue. Instead, the manager went at shortstop with Torres, who himself has battled what the Yankees call a “core issue.”
This year, even the healthy Yankees usually are dealing with something, and the team’s track record hasn’t been all that great treating such problems. In Gregorius' case, it’s not like he’s healing up, either. He's just choosing to play through the finger strain, and indicated the condition hasn’t really improved in the past two weeks.
“I mean, it is what it is,” Gregorius aid. “Ain’t much I can change about it. It’s pain tolerance basically.”
As for treatment, Gregorius added that his “body doesn’t handle ice,” causing him to “sometimes break into hives.” He prefers to take a more optimistic approach, however. When asked if he feels on the verge of being “Hot Didi” again, with bigger production on the way, the shortstop smiled.
“Well, I can’t predict the future,” Gregorius said. “But if I do, then yes. I mean, you gotta go with that.”
History, if not recent health, is on his side.