TAMPA, Fla. - Expect nothing and you'll never be disappointed. That has been Alex Rodriguez's approach, at least publicly, to this spring training.
Rodriguez, coming off a full-season suspension, played his first game in the field Sunday, starting at third base and batting fifth in a 3-2 win over the Nationals. As he did after his first two games at designated hitter, A-Rod, who had only one ball hit his way, brought more humor than analysis.
When asked if he would have preferred more chances in the field in his five innings, he smiled and said, "Not necessarily. But I'm glad I did get the first one out of the way."
Of how he felt moving in the field, A-Rod, who heard almost exclusively cheers from the Steinbrenner Field crowd of 10,737, said: "I haven't moved around much. I wouldn't expect too much movement, though. My expectation is if a ball's hit to me, catch it and throw to first. It's not going to be an Ozzie Smith year."
And how encouraged is he by the way his 39-year-old body has responded?
"I haven't gotten to the encouraging part yet," he said, smiling again. "But so far, so good. Like any spring, March 6, March 7, obviously, there's some challenges. It's going to take two or three weeks before I start evaluating where I'm at. Right now, it's about repetitions."
The most important of those are at the plate, and his numbers haven't been bad. He went 1-for-2, a bloop double, and is 2-for-6 with two walks and two strikeouts in three games.
The reviews from outside haven't been kind -- "He looks like he's swinging a weighted bat," one NL talent evaluator said -- but Joe Girardi has seen positive signs.
"I think his pitch selection's been pretty good, the pitches he's swung at," Girardi said. "He's got a couple walks in there, and that's what you want to see. You want guys to see a lot of pitches this time of year."
There's a reason Girardi's emphasis is getting Rodriguez at-bats rather than chances in the field. If A-Rod is going to help the Yankees, it will be primarily as a DH, with occasional appearances at third backing up Chase Headley and, should the experiment be successful this month, at first as an option for Mark Teixeira.
"We'll get him out there more, but my main focus is the at-bats," Girardi said. "And if I put him out there too much, I think it lessens his at-bats, and I want to see where he's at there."
A-Rod is expected to DH Monday against the Rays. On Sunday, he faced righthander Doug Fister in the second inning and flared an 0-and-1 pitch down the rightfield line. The ball found a landing spot between first baseman Kila Ka'aihue and second baseman Wilmer Difo, bouncing on the chalk and into the stands for a ground-rule double.
Against lefthander Sammy Solis in the fourth, A-Rod struck out on a 2-and-2 curveball.
He finally got his first chance in the field with two on and two out in the third. Tyler Moore sent a hard chopper that A-Rod fielded cleanly, backhanding it well behind the bag. He set himself before throwing a strike to first baseman Garrett Jones.
"It felt like 10 years, at least," said Rodriguez, who last played third in a big-league game Sept. 10, 2013. "I couldn't believe I had to throw the ball that far across the diamond. It's a long ways."