TAMPA, Fla. - In his first news conference of the spring, Joe Girardi said Alex Rodriguez would have to "earn'' his playing time for the regular season.

Girardi was asked Tuesday if he had seen enough from the 39-year-old at the plate to "pencil'' A-Rod in as the everyday designated hitter. Girardi said it was too soon to say, even with less than two weeks left of spring training.

"I still think you have to look at the last 10 days and where guys are at,'' Girardi said before the Yankees rallied to beat the Tigers, 9-8, Tuesday night. Ramon Flores hit a walk-off, three-run homer to cap a comeback from an 8-2, seventh-inning deficit.

Rodriguez went 1-for-2 and is hitting .286 with a .393 on-base percentage, two home runs and three RBIs. The Yankees have 10 games left in spring training, including a split-squad game.

"I just think his at-bats are more consistent, his timing is more consistent,'' Girardi said, comparing him to his first games here. "I definitely think he's swung the bat pretty good.''

Rodriguez walked against Anibal Sanchez in the second inning, bounced to third in the fourth and singled to left off Angel Nesbitt in the sixth.

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On Feb. 20, the day before the first full-squad workout, Girardi said: "He's on our roster, but I think you have to prove yourself in a sense for playing time and how you fit in because we really haven't seen him play in two years. We don't know exactly where he's at, so that's something he has to prove and earn.''

Opposing teams' scouts have given Rodriguez's hitting mostly negative reviews.

"He didn't have a very quick bat the last several years to begin with, but it doesn't look slower,'' one AL scout said early in the spring. "Let's see if it gets better with reps. Doubtful, but possible.''

Another AL scout, said before Tuesday night's game, said: "The bat is just so slow. Against any kind of velocity he has almost no chance. He has to guess right.''

Before the game, Girardi said the DH at-bats are going to be spread around, regardless of how A-Rod is performing. "There's a couple of guys that could probably use some DH days,'' he said.

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Carlos Beltran, who will be 38 in April, probably will need some days at DH. Mark Teixeira turns 35 in April and has battled nagging injuries. "I think there's going to be plenty of at-bats for everyone,'' Girardi said.

Getting at-bats for Rodriguez, not time in the field, was determined to be the priority from Day 1. He has started three games at third base and hasn't seemed especially impressed with his work there.

"I would say I'm moving as good as you're going to see me move, the days of speed are behind me,'' he said after his second game at third March 14. Girardi said he has seen enough that he'd be comfortable putting A-Rod there when Chase Headley needs a day off.

And although the much-discussed experiment of using Rodriguez at first base appears to have been scuttled, Girardi insisted that isn't the case, all evidence to the contrary.

"I've said all along, the most important thing are at-bats,'' Girardi said. "You're probably going to see him going through some drills at first, and my guess is you're going to see him in a spring training game [at first] before we leave.''