The New York Yankees are close to getting their third baseman back.
Another way of looking at it is that the Single-A Tampa Yankees are about to add a major bat to their lineup over Labor Day weekend. Watch out, Lakeland Tigers.
Alex Rodriguez begins a rehab assignment with the Yankees' Single-A affiliate on Friday night (Aug. 31). He's scheduled to be the designated hitter.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told reporters (including the Star-Ledger's Marc Carig) that Rodriguez could rejoin the major league club as soon as Monday, depending on how he performs with Tampa. Rodriguez took batting practice earlier in the week for the first time since breaking his hand on July 24.
The Yankees could use Rodriguez back in their lineup as soon as possible.
First baseman Mark Teixeira has been out since Aug. 27 with a calf injury and told reporters he could miss up to two weeks. (As ESPN New York's Mike Mazzeo points out, a similar injury sidelined Derek Jeter for three weeks last season.) Even if Teixeira has been struggling in August (batting .250/.330/.408), that's a 30-homer bat missing from the middle of the order.
Eric Chavez has been an excellent fill-in at third base in Rodriguez's absence. In August, he's batting .373/.413/.610 with four home runs and 10 RBI in 63 plate appearances. That has helped Yankees third basemen to post a .280 batting average, the third-highest mark in the AL. Their .830 ranks second at the position.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi will surely want to keep Chavez's bat in the lineup, maybe even by playing him at first base while Teixeira is out.
If Rodriguez ends up at designated hitter in his first few games back, he shouldn't hurt the Yankees' production at that position. As of Aug. 31, Yankees DHs rank fourth in the AL with a .282 batting average and .836 OPS.
Before suffering a broken hand, Rodriguez was having his best month of the season. During July, he batted .315/.367/493 with five doubles, a triple, two homers and nine RBI. It's unlikely he'll return to that form right away after missing more than a month, but he'll have all of September to get his timing back.
The Yankees have hit relatively well in August, batting .271 with a .782 OPS. However, as noted by ESPN New York's Wallace Matthews, the Yanks have gone 17-15 with Rodriguez out. Their seven-game lead in the AL East has been reduced to a first-place margin of three games.
The need for a bat has led to headlines like this one from the New York Times after the Yankees signed outfielder Steve Pearce.
If the Yanks are hoping Pearce—batting .254 for the season—can help, then they really do need Rodriguez back.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, they won't have Rodriguez available for their weekend series with the Baltimore Orioles. The O's trail the Yanks by three games and could reach a first-place tie with a sweep.
But if Rodriguez rejoins the Yankees as they begin a three-game set with the Tampa Bay Rays, he could provide an immediate boost to the lineup. Against the Rays this season, Rodriguez is batting .286/.423/.381 in 52 plate appearances. He hasn't hit any home runs versus Tampa Bay this season, but he has gotten on base with 10 walks and 12 hits.
The Yankees follow up with a four-game set in Baltimore. Rodriguez has had less success against the Orioles this year, compiling a .250/.333/.250 average with no extra-base hits in 36 plate appearances.
From there, the Yankees play three games at Fenway Park versus the Boston Red Sox. Rodriguez has hit well against the Yanks' archrivals, batting .280/.333/.480 with a home run and four RBI.
Will coming off an injury continue Rodriguez's subpar September performances? Last year, he hit .196/.369/.353 in the final month of the regular season. During his career, he's batting .285 with a .543 OPS in September. Good numbers, but those are his worst numbers of any month over his career.
Perhaps Rodriguez can pretend it's August since he last played in July. That's been the best month of his career, with a .312 batting average and .999 OPS. The 127 home runs he's hit in August are more than in any other month during his 19 years in the majors.
One reason Rodriguez thinks he'll be able to come back strong, according to The Journal News' Chad Jennings, is that he didn't suffer a leg injury. Much of his power comes from his legs.
The primary reason the Yankees signed Pearce is because he hits left-handed pitching well, batting .271 with an .875 OPS in that matchup over his career. As a team, the Yanks are batting .256 versus lefties this season. But Rodriguez has a career average of .289/.386/.556 against southpaws. He should help them considerably when the Yankees face a left-hander.
Since the All-Star break, the Yankees' record is 23-22. Adding a bat of Rodriguez's caliber—even if, at age 36, he's not the player he used to be—certainly can't hurt them.
But the Yankees really could use the player Rodriguez used to be, preferably the guy who hit 30 homers and drove in 125 runs two years ago.
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