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A-Rod's work with Long to pay dividends?

Yankees batting coach Kevin Long reets Alex Rodriguez

Yankees batting coach Kevin Long reets Alex Rodriguez after he hit a first-inning, two-run home run off the Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Kevin Correia in a spring training baseball game at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla. (March 26, 2011) Credit: AP

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Don't look at the impressive spring numbers, Alex Rodriguez said.

Pay attention to the men behind the curtain.

Rodriguez has swung a hot bat, but to A-Rod and hitting coach Kevin Long, what most portends a big 2011 has been the work they've done behind the scenes, in the batting cages.

"I don't really get caught up in the games, but the one thing for me that's been a nice difference has been my work with K-Long," Rodriguez said Sunday after going 0-for-2 in the Yankees' 7-6 loss to the Twins. "It's been a lot more consistent, a lot more fluid."

Rodriguez is hitting .404 with six homers and 14 RBIs in spring training. "It's always good to produce," he said. "It's always better to hit .400 than .200, but at the end of the day, if my work is not consistent behind the curtains [the cages], I wouldn't feel as good."

He's attributed feeling good to starting his offseason workout program earlier than in previous seasons, a program that included visits from Long.

A-Rod, who showed up at camp 10 pounds lighter and with 3 percent less body fat than he had at the end of 2010, has talked about getting the "green light" from his hip surgeon, Dr. Marc Philippon, to work out this past offseason the way he did before his surgery in March 2009.

"There's more consistency through my swing, more flexibility," he said. "There's just more explosion that I feel and that I think [Long] sees."

Said Long: "There's explosion. The ball's jumping off his bat compared to when he came in before and it would be just so-so. Now, every time he steps in the cage, it's pretty special."

As for the numbers, Long agrees with A-Rod on their relevance -- to a point. Said Long, "I know we don't like to put a lot of stock in spring training, but he's certainly showed this spring training that he's ready to go, maybe more ready than anybody on our squad. He looks terrific."

Rodriguez is coming off a season in which he hit 30 homers and had 125 RBIs in 137 games, but he hit .270, the reason many thought he had a "down" year.

Joe Girardi, who hopes to get 150 games out of A-Rod this season, thinks a better season could be in the offing, though he wasn't about to say 2010 was a struggle. "It's hard to complain about his year last year when he drove in 125 runs," Girardi said. "Might his home run totals go up? Possibly. Might his average go up? Possibly."

To the point of 2007? That was A-Rod's last MVP year, when he hit .314 and led the majors with 54 homers, 156 RBIs and 143 runs scored.

"Man, that was fun. I slept good every night that year," Rodriguez said. "It's one of those years you're flattered by and happy about, but to use that as a barometer would be very tough, and I don't want to set myself up for failure, that's for sure. But I think what I'm doing now is I'm enjoying the game, I think I'm going to help the team win this year and I think the team overall is in a good place."

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