Awkward situation: Alex Rodriguez nowhere to be seen during spring training

Alex Rodriguez reacts as he walks back to Alex Rodriguez reacts as he walks back to the dugout after flying out in a pinch-hit opportunity in the top of the sixth inning of Game 4 of the ALCS against the Detroit Tigers. (Oct. 18, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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TAMPA, Fla.

In the far corner of the Yankees' spring training clubhouse sits a locker that has not been used this year.

A few days ago, its contents were as follows: Two pinstriped uniform tops. Two uniform pants. A batting helmet with the logo of the Dominican Republic team from the World Baseball Classic. Two unopened boxes. On top of the larger box, a pair of batting gloves caked with dirt. Some mail addressed to the locker's absent tenant.

And a nameplate: "ALEX RODRIGUEZ 13''.

This is the only evidence that A-Rod -- baseball's highest-paid player -- still works for the Yankees. In this camp, he has become a non-entity, his name spoken only when a member of the media brings him up.

"It's kind of like in a sense when Jorgie [Posada] retired, not having him," manager Joe Girardi said this past week. "Even though Alex is still a player, we haven't had him all spring, so it is kind of strange."

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Said Derek Jeter: "A lot of people haven't been around this spring. I haven't been around a lot this spring. It's been kind of an awkward year."

The relationship between A-Rod and the Yankees these days is all about awkwardness.

Rodriguez is in New York recovering from January hip surgery. He is not expected to play until after the All-Star break at the earliest. The Yankees told him not to come to spring training, to do his rehab work elsewhere, to stay away. He has stayed away.

There are other injured players here who are not going to be ready for Opening Day. Mark Teixeira. Curtis Granderson. Michael Pineda.

General manager Brian Cashman is rolling around the complex on a scooter after breaking his leg and dislocating his ankle in a skydiving accident.

But A-Rod is a different story.

Isn't he always?

"He's just doing his physical activity," Cashman said. "Once he does baseball activity, we'll get him obviously down here."

By coincidence or by design, Rodriguez's rehab stint in Tampa will not begin until after the Yankees leave for New York and the regular season.

Girardi said he believes Rodriguez will be at Yankee Stadium on April 1 when the Yankees open the season against the Red Sox. He thinks so, anyway.

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"I really hadn't thought of that," Girardi said. "I would think that we might. I would expect to see him. I'd like to see him."

If he does, it will be A-Rod's first public appearance since the Yankees were eliminated from the playoffs by the Tigers on Oct. 18 in Detroit.

Rodriguez ended that series on the bench after a miserable postseason. He vowed to return to his former MVP self and said he wanted to remain a Yankee. He has five years and $114 million remaining on his 10-year, $275-million contact. He is 37.

Rodriguez's public utterances since his surgery have been statements issued by a public relations firm. He was among numerous baseball players named in a Miami New Times story on Jan. 29 that alleged that a Florida anti-aging clinic called Biogenesis served as a distribution center for PEDs.

The story, based on documents turned over to the paper by a former Biogenesis employee, alleged that Rodriguez procured and used PEDs from the clinic from 2009 into last season. Rodriguez, who admitted using PEDs from 2001-03, has denied the allegations through his spokesman. The whole matter is being investigated by Major League Baseball.

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Girardi, Jeter and Andy Pettitte are among the Yankees who said they have been in contact with Rodriguez during spring training.

"Obviously, he's a friend of mine and we've been teammates, but -- I hate to say it -- you get down here and the days go on,'' Pettitte said. "You know what I'm saying? But I think about him. I text him and we've been talking. I don't know about everyone else, but he's been a huge part of this team."

The other day, Robinson Cano was asked about the Yankees going into the season without "Granderson, Teixeira and Alex."

"Hopefully, the guys we have will help us to just stay in the race until we get Granderson and Teixeira back," Cano said.

He forgot to mention Alex.

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