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A-Rod hits one out of sight

The Yankees' Alex Rodriguez, right, is congratulated by

The Yankees' Alex Rodriguez, right, is congratulated by manager Joe Girardi after his long third-inning home run Friday. (Mar. 19, 2010) Photo Credit: AP

TAMPA, Fla. - A year ago, Alex Rodriguez was in Vail, Colo., rehabbing from hip surgery and wondering what kind of player he would be when he returned.

On Friday, he wondered just how far he hit Rick Porcello's fastball.

Answer: real far.

Said A-Rod: "I knew it was going to be over the first fence, that's for sure."

His moonshot off Tigers righthander Porcello not only went over the leftfield fence at Steinbrenner Field but cleared the far left part of the giant scoreboard behind it.

There are no official estimates given for how far home runs travel here, but the blast had to have been one of the longest in the stadium's 15-year history. "That one felt really good," he said, "because it wasn't an everyday home run."

Neither Rodriguez nor the Yankees needed to see his monstrous home run to be any more confident about his ability to perform with a surgically repaired hip.

The Yankees learned that last year, when A-Rod returned from hip surgery May 8, hit 30 home runs in 444 at-bats and put together one of the more impressive strings of postseason clutch hits in recent memory.

But seeing the flight of this home run served as a reminder of just how little impact the surgery has had on his power.

What has changed for A-Rod in his post-surgery life is the amount of preparation work he is allowed to do before games.

Dr. Marc Philippon, the surgeon who operated on Rodriguez's hip last March, gave him specific limits on his workload, something Rodriguez said he still follows in 2010 spring training.

He still is among the first players to arrive at the stadium, but he said he doesn't do the amount of work he used to put in several years ago.

"Overall, you just cut your swings in half, your ground balls," he said. "You can't go and do all the crazy things you did before . . . Every swing, you've got to make it count, and you basically count them."

When Rodriguez slumped midway through the 2009 regular season, Joe Girardi began giving him regular scheduled days off as preventive maintenance for his hip. He doesn't plan to do that this year.

"We'll just watch him carefully and determine when he needs a day, or needs a DH day, or whatever it is," Girardi said. "We'll just keep a careful eye and communicate."

Friday's homer was A-Rod's first in 21 at-bats. After spending the early part of spring training focusing on conditioning, he recently turned his attention to his swing. He said he had a strong session with hitting coach Kevin Long a few days ago on one of the back fields and felt he made progress.

Opening Day still is two weeks away, but Girardi said of Rodriguez, "He's pretty close."

Notes & quotes: CC Sabathia, making his fourth start, struck out eight in 51/3 innings in the Yankees' 6-2 win over the Tigers. He allowed two runs and four hits and looked as if his next start could be one that counts, but he welcomes two more weeks of camp, saying he plans to focus on getting comfortable again pitching inside to righthanded batters. Said Sabathia: "I've got to make sure I get in there and bury it."

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