CHICAGO -- Joe Girardi believes a healthy Alex Rodriguez is capable of carrying the Yankees. General manager Brian Cashman will take something north of average.

"He hasn't been the MVP type of player for a while, but he's been an above-average player at that position for the last number of years, and hopefully we can get that again,'' Cashman said before last night's game, A-Rod's second back with the Yankees.

A night after going 1-for-4, Rodriguez, suspended for 211 games Monday but able to play as he plans to appeal, was 1-for-2 in four plate appearances. He was in the on-deck circle in the ninth inning when Alfonso Soriano struck out with Brett Gardner on first base as the White Sox won, 3-2, Tuesday night.

"You always want to have an opportunity to come up with the game on the line and get a big hit for us,'' Rodriguez said. "I thought Sori was going to get a big hit there.''

The Yankees (57-55) fell to 2-5 on this road trip as they lost for the 13th time in their last 19 games, losing again to a White Sox team that lost 10 straight coming into this series.

When the A-Rod obsession ends, or at least dissipates, that the Yankees' season continues to nose-dive figures to command some attention. They are 10 1/2 games behind the Red Sox and 5 1/2 out in the wild-card race.

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"We're digging ourselves a hole, there's no doubt about it,'' said Cashman, whose team hasn't won a series since July 5-7 against the Orioles. "It's a pretty obvious circumstance right now: We have to win games, it's as simple as that. We have to play better baseball and win with what we have. This has been a terrible road trip.''

Hiroki Kuroda (10-7, 2.45) was 3-0 with a 0.55 ERA over his previous five starts. He lost for the first time since June 30.

"He gave up three runs in seven innings,'' Girardi said. "Usually you'll sign up for that.''

A-Rod, the designated hitter and batting third, walked in the first inning, was grazed by a pitch on his elbow in the third, lined to center in the fifth -- with two runners on -- and grounded a single to left in the eighth.

"His plate appearances have been good, his at-bats have been good,'' Girardi said. "I'm encouraged by that.''

As is A-Rod.

"I'm seeing the ball pretty well up there,'' he said. "Just trying to get my timing back. The last two or three weeks I think I've been swinging the bat relatively well. I feel pretty good up there.''

Rodriguez, coming off his second hip surgery in four years, said he feels "a lot different'' than he did last August and September, when a lousy final two months spilled into a postseason that led to a benching.

"I feel I have some stability I didn't have last year,'' said Rodriguez, who again in his postgame comments refused to discuss anything other than baseball. "Hopefully the power follows.''

The Yankees can only hope.

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After scoring a first-inning run against lefthander Chris Sale -- Soriano scored from second on a wild pitch -- the Yankees didn't score again until the ninth. Sale (7-11, 2.83) allowed a run and five hits in 7 1/3 innings.

"I haven't been around long enough to really make a judgment on anything,'' Rodriguez said of the offense's struggles. "My only concern is to go out there and be productive and help the team.''

The Yankees should have scored a second run in the third.

Sale hit A-Rod with a pitch, which drew cheers from the crowd -- "There's something wrong with that,'' Girardi said -- which moved up Gardner, who had walked. Robinson Cano singled to left but Gardner was thrown out at home, inexplicably choosing not to slide as Josh Phegley tagged him. A replay indicated Gardner was safe, and Girardi suggested that if plate umpire Alan Porter had been in a better position, he would have seen that.

Still, Girardi wasn't blaming Porter. Asked if Gardner should have slid, Girardi simply said, "Yeah.''