Key contributions from keystone duo
It may be a very long time before the Yankees see a keystone combination with the combined offensive productivity of Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano of the not so long ago. Two games into the 2016 season, however, there has been much to enjoy about the combined efforts of this year’s shortstop-second base combo of Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro.
The pair have done more damage at the bottom of the lineup than those at the top for the Yankees. Castro, who had a two-run double in Tuesday’s Opening Day loss, probably had the most important hit Wednesday night as the Yankees came off the canvas for a 16-6 romp of the Astros. After Michael Pineda nearly gave up all of a 6-1 lead as Houston closed to 6-5 in the top of the second, Castro crushed a three-run home run in the bottom of the inning to put the Yankees back in command.
It was a four-hit, five-RBI night for Castro, who was acquired from the Cubs in an offseason trade for pitcher Adam Warren. After watching Stephen Drew struggle to hit .200 last year, it has been a treat so far to see a Yankees second baseman handle the bat so well. In addition to his three-run bomb, Castro knocked in two more runs with singles in the six-run first inning and the three-run seventh. In only his second season at second base after being moved there from shortstop last year, Castro has looked comfortable in the field as well.
Gregorius, who settled in nicely as Jeter’s successor in 2015 after a shaky start, has broken out of the gate much better this year. He hit an impressive home run Tuesday and followed that with three singles Wednesday night. From the 8-9 holes, Castro and Gregorius are batting a combined .563 with two doubles, two home runs and eight RBI in 16 at-bats. Contrast that with the 1-2-3 hitters for the Yankees, who have combined for one hit in 22 at-bats (.045).
With Castro’s double and Gregorius’ home run Tuesday, it marked the first time since at least 1913 that the Yankees’ starting middle infield pairing both had extra-base hits and RBIs on Opening Day. The YES Network reported that Castro and Gregorius, both 26, are the Yankees’ youngest regular starting middle infield pairing since 1977 with second baseman Willie Randolph, 22, and shortstop Bucky Dent, 25, who played together for three-plus seasons.
Gregorius became the third Yankees shortstop to homer on Opening Day. Jeter did it three times, all of which came on the road — April 2, 1996 at Cleveland, April 5, 1999 at Oakland and April 1, 2002 at Baltimore. Dent went deep April 9, 1981 at Yankee Stadium against Texas.
It would be too much to ask Castro and Gregorius to duplicate some of the seasons Jeter and Cano had together, but so far so good.