Partners in prime: Didi, Starlin at heart of win

Yanks' SS makes mark with 20th HR, 2B hits decisive dinger as DP duo continues to click

Partners in prime: Didi, Starlin at heart of win

BALTIMORE -- Didi Gregorius continues to insist that he does not view himself as a power hitter, but his residency in the cleanup spot of the Yankees' lineup suggests differently, as does the fact that he is now the only shortstop in franchise history to belt 20 homers in back-to-back seasons.

Gregorius accomplished that milestone with a two-run blast in the fourth inning off Dylan Bundy on Monday, sparking the sluggish Yankees following their early-morning arrival in the Inner Harbor while setting the tone for a 7-4 victory over the Orioles at Camden Yards.

"I'm not worried about the home runs," Gregorius said. "For me, it's about trying to make improvements, trying to get better. If I hit home runs, I hit home runs, but I'm not going out there to try to hit them. It's nice to have them."

The blast came after double-play partner Starlin Castro notched the first hit of the game off Bundy, setting up a three-run fourth inning. Castro gave the Yankees the lead in the fifth by sending Bundy to the showers with a two-run homer to left field, his 13th.

Castro's laser two-run homer

Both infielders have spent time on the disabled list this season, and Gregorius said that the Yankees greatly missed Castro's presence while he was shelved with a hamstring injury.

"It's always fun," Gregorius said. "We always [talk trash] to each other during the game, keep each other loose. For me, that's important. I try to enjoy the game, it's a lot of ups and downs. To try to keep everybody loose makes it a better team."

Gregorius on 20-homer seasons

Castro and Gregorius clicked almost immediately after the second baseman was acquired from the Cubs prior to the 2016 season, and Castro said that he believes his game has improved as a result of playing alongside Gregorius.

"He's a really good player," Castro said. "Everybody trusts him, and not only hitting. He's a good defensive guy, and it's pretty good for me to be his partner. We've got a good relationship. We try to play hard every day, and we've got similar personalities."

Since being traded to the Yankees in December 2014, Gregorius has developed into one of the game's better all-around shortstops. He hung in on a tough Manny Machado slide in the first inning, which Gregorius said was clean, and then turned a nifty 6-3 double play on Chris Davis grounder in the fourth inning.

Gregorius turns two

With Gregorius now batting .289/.322/.474 in 113 games, manager Joe Girardi said that he believes Gregorius has tapped into the potential that attracted the Yankees to him three winters ago, when they were seeking a successor for retired captain Derek Jeter.

"When you look at his at-bats against right-handers, they were good," Girardi said. "We knew that he had power against right-handers. I think we weren't quite sure how he was going to adjust against left-handers. To me, that's been the biggest difference in Didi. He's an everyday player, and he hits for power against lefties as well. I'm not surprised."

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.