Yankees' Alex Rodriguez has looked better than expected on the field
Anthony RieberAnthony Rieber
Anthony Rieber has been at Newsday since Aug. 31, 1998
Can we talk about Alex Rodriguez the baseball player for a few minutes.
Is that OK?
Nine games into his 2013 season, Rodriguez is batting .278 (10-for-36) with one home run and four RBIs after going 2-for-5 Thursday in the Yankees' 8-4 loss to the Angels at Yankee Stadium.
After the much less accomplished fill-ins the Yankees used at third base in A-Rod's absence, those numbers are passable. But what's more important than the stats is that Rodriguez, at age 38 and with two bad hips, looks better than expected.
He's not getting overpowered by fastballs. He's showing some signs of power, with a home run on Sunday and doubles on Tuesday and Wednesday, including one off the leftfield wall.
He has life in his legs on defense, with more lateral movement than one would expect. He dives for balls and comes up with a chest full of dirt, not a blown-out hip.
Perhaps most important of all is that A-Rod felt good enough after playing nine inning at third base in Wednesday's 11-3 blowout win to start at third again for Thursday's matinee.
Even Robinson Cano got an inning off on Wednesday. But manager Joe Girardi, after checking with Rodriguez in the morning, chose to not use him as the designated hitter or sit him against lefthander C.J. Wilson.
And they both had the perfect non-health-related excuse: Rodriguez was 1-for-19 lifetime vs. Wilson.
Girardi was asked if he expected Rodriguez to be this available to him at this point.
"I wasn't sure," he said. "And that's why I continue to communicate with him and check how he's doing. He was off for a long time. He probably hasn't played a lot of day games after night games. He also is 38 years old, too, but he said he feels good."
Rodriguez's hits Thursday were both of the soft variety. He blooped a broken-bat single to center in the second inning and got a gift in the third when his pop-up in very short rightfield was missed by first baseman Mark Trumbo, who (hopefully for him) lost it in the sun.
That hit loaded the bases for the Yankees in a 1-1 game. Vernon Wells followed by rapping into an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play. Wells heard boos that were based on performance. Those are not the same as the boos A-Rod has been hearing, which are based on allegations of performance-enhancing.
There. We had to mention it. To quote Rodriguez, you just can't ignore the "pink elephant" in the room -- that A-Rod has been suspended 211 games by Major League Baseball for his alleged involvement with the shuttered anti-aging clinic Biogenesis. He is playing while appealing the suspension.
While developments, actual and fanciful, swirl around him, Rodriguez has been quiet this week. The only group interview he has done before or after games was on Sunday after his 648th home run. He left again Thursday without addressing reporters.
Rodriguez also grounded out to short, hit a fly ball to center and struck out Thursday -- all in RBI situations -- so it's not as if he's back to MVP form. (One of A-Rod's 2013 fill-ins, Chris Nelson, hit a pair of home runs for the Angels, including a grand slam.)
But at least Rodriguez is not the helpless flailer who was benched in the playoffs last year, before any of the Biogenesis stuff even became public.
On that matter, Rodriguez is letting his lawyer do the talking. On the field, amid the increased attention every time he comes to the plate, his play is speaking. At the moment, it's worth listening to. If you choose to hear it.