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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Ailing Alex Rodriguez bad timing for Yankees

New York Yankees designated hitter Alex Rodriguez

New York Yankees designated hitter Alex Rodriguez walks to the dugout at the end of the fourth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays in a game at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, April 24, 2016. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

So this is how it’s going lately for the Yankees. After so much futility against lefty pitching, Alex Rodriguez stepped to the plate in the fourth inning Sunday and ripped a bullet RBI double off the Rays’ Drew Smyly.

The line drive nicked the very top edge of the leftfield wall and kicked back onto the grass. It missed being a home run by inches.

We never saw A-Rod again.

Two innings later, when his spot came up, Dustin Ackley suddenly appeared to pinch hit for Rodriguez. The reason? The Yankees said A-Rod had suffered a “stiff left oblique” while taking swings to prepare for his next DH turn, and the injury was worrisome enough to send him for an MRI in the middle of Sunday’s game.

For a team short on lefty-neutralizing weapons, whether they’ve been recently misfiring or not, the past 72 hours have been rough. Aaron Hicks is sidelined indefinitely with “traumatic bursitis” of his left shoulder, and just as the Yankees were hoping to play short the next few days while waiting for him to recover, Rodriguez tweaks an oblique muscle, which tends to be an even more complicated issue.

Oblique injuries are notoriously stubborn, regardless of the degree, and Rodriguez being 40 definitely doesn’t help the healing process. It’s a condition that can take months, not weeks, to disappear.

“Any time someone leaves with an oblique, you’re not real optimistic because they take a while,” Joe Girardi said. “Yeah, I worry.”

A few hours after Girardi’s comments, the Yankees announced that the Rodriguez MRI came back negative and that he was traveling with the team to Texas for the start of a three-game series, which begins Monday night. Also, there would be no “immediate” roster move, but that doesn’t preclude one from happening at some point, depending on the conditions of either Hicks or A-Rod going forward.

The timing is not ideal for Rodriguez, who is off to a lousy April and frequently has looked lost at the plate. When Smyly struck him out in the second inning Sunday, it was A-Rod’s team-leading 19th K as opposed to only eight hits in 55 at-bats.

Rodriguez also is batting .143 (3-for-21) with a .190 slugging percentage against lefthanders.

We know what you’re thinking — if A-Rod is sidelined for a while, no big loss, right? But the way the Yankees are struggling, they need Rodriguez to be a threat somewhere in the lineup, even after dropping him from the third spot to the lower half of the order. A-Rod has shown only occasional glimpses of being the slugger who hit 33 homers last season, but if he’s ever going to recapture that, he will need consistent at-bats.

“He’s a guy that’s an impact player, a guy that can change the game with one swing of the bat,” Carlos Beltran said.

Rodriguez has been the lightning rod for the Yankees’ early malaise because of who he is, but his age is a red flag the others don’t wear. That concern has hastened the discussion of how much he has left — and how long the Yankees would wait before sitting him for a better option at DH.

If A-Rod requires some time to heal, this has the potential to be a trial run. If the Yankees chose to summon help from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, it could give Beltran some swings at DH, a break he would welcome.

But that depends on what the Yankees might want if they go the Scranton route. The front office doesn’t see the newly signed Nick Swisher, a switch hitter, as a viable alternative in the outfield. He’s more insurance for Mark Teixeira at first base. Swisher went 3-for-4 Sunday and is batting .382 (13-for-34) with two homers for the RailRiders.

Another interesting candidate would be top prospect Aaron Judge, who is batting .284 (19-for-67) but has 21 strikeouts. Judge doesn’t provide the outfield flexibility Hicks does, and the Yankees probably think it’s a bit early for him. Slade Heathcott and Cesar Puello are on the disabled list, which leaves lefthanded-hitting Ben Gamel as someone the Yankees could call up for the bench.

As disappointing as this 3-6 homestand was, the shaky condition of both Hicks and A-Rod for the upcoming three-city trip through Texas, Boston and Baltimore is a treacherous development. What it might mean for A-Rod long-term, however, could be the real intrigue here.

New York Sports