Major Leagues: A-Rod returns tonight
By Dave Skretta
NEW YORK ó Alex Rodriguez will make his season debut for the New York Yankees on Friday night in Baltimore, joining a team that desperately needs some timely hitting.
The Yankees announced that A-Rod would rejoin the team on Thursday, a few hours after the All-Star third baseman played in his final rehab game in Florida. He went 0 for 2 with two walks and put in three innings of defense, then took some extra ground balls and batting practice.
“We’re all very encouraged that he’s doing well and we’re all anxious to get him back,” said manager Joe Girardi, who learned of the decision shortly before the Yankees wrapped up a two-game series against Tampa Bay. “We would have taken him back five weeks ago, if we could.”
Rodriguez had surgery March 9 to repair torn cartilage in his right hip, and has recovered more quickly than expected. The Yankees had initially set a target date for his return of May 15.
“A lot of us had a hard time wrapping our arms around it, that it was actually physically possible, because we hadn’t seen a player come back this quick from that kind of surgery,” Girardi said. “But now that we’re to this point, it’s kind of exciting.”
The three-time AL MVP spent much of his rehab assignment facing questions about a biography released this week that suggests he used performance-enhancing drugs in high school and may also have taken them after he became a Yankee in 2004.
Rodriguez hasn’t commented about the book. He admitted earlier this year to taking steroids when he was a member of the Texas Rangers from 2001-03.
His return comes at an opportune time for the Yankees, who have struggled to find key hits. They’re 4 for 32 with runners in scoring position during a four-game slide, and their 13-14 start after a big offseason spending spree has already put some heat on Girardi and GM Brian Cashman.
“We need some more production on the offensive side and Alex is the guy who could do it,” said outfielder Johnny Damon. “I mean, he’s definitely one of the best players around.
“Yeah, it would give us some confidence.”
Girardi said he hoped A-Rod’s presence will allow other players in the lineup to see better pitches, including slugging first baseman Mark Teixeira, who is hitting just .209 with 15 RBIs after signing a $180 million, eight-year contract in the offseason.
“I’m not expecting Alex to hit a home run every time and get a hit every time he comes up and every time there’s a runner on he drives them in, but I know it changes the way a team approaches our lineup,” Girardi said. “It makes our lineup deeper. He’s a threat every time he walks up to the plate, there’s just so many things he can do.”
Teixeira said he’s been text messaging Rodriguez every few days during his rehab.
“We’re all excited, we’ve been excited to have Alex back since he started his rehab and started playing games in Tampa,” Teixeira said. “He’s A-Rod, he’s going to put up MVP numbers every single year.”