David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
BOSTON - Entering a make-or-break stretch of their season, and with Derek Jeter back on the disabled list, you'd think the Yankees would be counting the minutes until Alex Rodriguez's return, which is expected Monday in Texas.
But Brian Cashman didn't give that impression Friday night at Fenway Park. Rather than doing everything possible to make sure A-Rod would be in Monday's lineup against the Rangers, Cashman hoped that Rodriguez wouldn't be too tired after another DH stint Sunday for the Triple-A RailRiders, or exhausted from the Scranton-to-Dallas flight.
At this point, with Rodriguez's 20-day rehab stint expiring Sunday, why not let A-Rod skip the final game and give him a leisurely commute to Arlington? Rushing Jeter from Scranton to the Bronx didn't work out too well last week. After two hours' sleep, Jeter didn't survive DH duty in suffering a Grade 1 quadriceps strain that landed him on the DL Friday and threatens to keep him out much longer.
Cashman left open the possibility that Rodriguez could be pushed back to Tuesday. But with A-Rod ready to be a contributor now, there's no point in waiting, and the general manager's mixed message was a bit confusing.
"The plan is to activate him," Cashman said. "The only way that's not going to happen is if in his communication -- of being honest to us about how he's feeling -- we have to make an adjustment. It's full steam ahead . . . if he feels right."
Every time Cashman suggested Rodriguez was a go for Monday, either at third base or DH, he just as quickly added a disclaimer. And with the contentious relationship between the two, it's not unreasonable to think that Cashman would prefer to go down swinging this season rather than be forced to lean on A-Rod.
But that's the bleak reality the Yankees are facing as they try to claw for a playoff spot. It very well could be Rodriguez or nothing. Jeter eventually will return, but to what degree? Curtis Granderson should be back by early August, but is that too late?
Joe Girardi has learned to take what he can get. And if that's 60 or 70 percent of Rodriguez, so be it. Girardi knows A-Rod has swatted a couple of home runs for Scranton, one an opposite-field shot. (A-Rod went 2-for-4 Friday night and is 3-for-8 for Scranton.) He doesn't need to hear much more, not after the Yankees lost Jeter again and replaced him with Triple-A call-up Brent Lillibridge, who went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and a walk in Friday night's 4-2 loss to the Red Sox.
Girardi has seen that act before. Not by Lillibridge, but a dozen others like him. None of them is A-Rod. And if Rodriguez can't provide a badly needed offensive jolt, Cashman didn't sound too confident yesterday about finding a solution elsewhere. At least not now, 11 days before the July 31 non-waivers trade deadline.
"Name me the bat that's moved already -- it hasn't," Cashman said. "And look at all the big rumors out there, they're involving pitchers."
Cashman described the market for offense as "offensive," smiling at his wordplay. And when a reporter mentioned that Yankees fans probably are offended by his team's production, the GM agreed.
"And understandably so," Cashman said. "These guys are trying, but, you know . . . "
He didn't need to finish that sentence. Cashman insists the Yankees remain "interested in adding and reinforcing and getting better" as the deadline approaches. Next up is A-Rod, who should help in all three categories. If not, this season is beyond saving.