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Alex Rodriguez realistic about skills at third base

New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez tries

New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez tries to tag out Toronto Blue Jays' Ryan Goins during the sixth inning of a spring training game on Saturday, March 14, 2015, in Dunedin, Fla. Credit: AP / Kathy Willens

DUNEDIN, Fla. - Alex Rodriguez getting booed on the road is a headline akin to dog-bites-man.

It happens frequently and has happened frequently and will continue to happen frequently as long as the 39-year-old remains in the game.

And so, predictably, in his first road game of spring training, Rodriguez heard boos -- and a couple of fans chanting "Der-ek Jet-er!'' his way -- upon being introduced before his first at-bat in Saturday's 1-0 loss to the Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.

"I actually liked that,'' Rodriguez said, laughing. "It made me miss my buddy.''

Rodriguez, who started at third base for the second time in spring training, went 1-for-3. He struck out in his first at-bat, singled off the wall in right-center in his second and flied to right in his third.

He has looked decent enough at the plate to this point, going 6-for-16, but he appeared a step slow in the field.

"Rusty,'' one opposing team scout said. "Instincts seem a little off, which isn't surprising [given the time he missed).''

Rodriguez is known for his on-field baseball instincts, which should come back with time. His speed is another matter.

"I would say I'm moving as good as you're going to see me move,'' he said. "The days of speed are behind me.''

As are his everyday third baseman duties, which he acknowledged. The goal is to get him to the point that he can be a credible option for Joe Girardi on days when Chase Headley needs a break.

"We have a guy that can play Gold Glove third base,'' A-Rod said of Headley. "My job is to get in the best shape I can to play respectable enough third base to give Joe as many options as possible.''

He is not there yet, though. The bottom of the fifth inning was an example. With runners at first and second, Devon Travis bounced one to A-Rod. He tried to beat Ryan Goins to the bag, but Goins slid under the tag attempt. Rodriguez cleanly fielded a grounder by the next batter, Josh Donaldson, and stepped on third to end the inning.

"That was another example of my foot speed," A-Rod said of the Goins play. "Or lack of foot speed.''

He is not concerned yet.

"There's been a lot of slow third basemen over the years,'' Rodriguez said. "The thing about third base is you want to do one step and dive. You want to have secure hands and you want to have a strong arm. I don't think foot speed is a requirement, but I think first-step quickness is.''

Girardi sounded as if he has a little ways to go before he sees A-Rod as field-ready.

"It's something we'll have to make an evaluation on,'' Girardi said. "Running is different than lateral movement, and at third, you're going to have to have lateral movement to have some range. So we'll just continue to watch.''

At the plate, Rodriguez was overmatched in his first at-bat, striking out on three pitches against Blue Jays lefthander Daniel Norris. He looked at two pitches to fall in an 0-and-2 hole before swinging and missing on a 94-mph fastball.

Facing Norris with one out in the fourth, Rodriguez swung at the first pitch, a 93-mph fastball, and sent it off the wall in right-center for a long single.

In his third at-bat, this time against lefthander Aaron Loup, A-Rod swung at the first pitch and flied out to right.

"That's a really good sign,'' Girardi said.

After coming out of the game in the bottom of the sixth inning, Rodriguez, as he's done during much of spring training, spent time signing autographs before heading to the clubhouse.

"To me, the biggest surprise, one of the nicest things about being back in camp, has been how great the fans have been,'' Rodriguez said. "How welcome they've made me feel. It's been a pleasant surprise.''

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