- Last Updated: 9:03 AM, July 15, 2012
- Posted: 2:18 AM, July 15, 2012
Joe Girardi, who always chooses his words carefully, fielded a question before yesterday’s game about whether it was time to move Alex Rodriguez away from the heart of the Yankees’ order.
“We’re not at that point yet,” the manager said.
Not yet. Which begs the follow-up question: Are we close to that point? Will we get there this season?
Then the Yankees put up a characteristic 5-3 victory over the Angels at Yankee Stadium, which only strengthened the instinctual response to that question: No, probably not this season.
Because the ultra-accomplished third baseman, though clearly past his prime, isn’t the liability he is perceived to be. And because the Yankees have enough coverage for Rodriguez’s decline phase, anyway.
“That’s what we want,” said Robinson Cano, who tied the game with a first-inning, two-run homer and drove in three runs on the day. “Everybody does little things. … Everybody’s just clicking.”
“It’s important,” Girardi said of Cano’s surge, “because you need different guys to carry you. … You need to spread it around.”
The Yankees (54-33) spread it around about as much as possible. At a season-high 21 games over .500, they benefited once more from timely power and excellent bullpen work to support Freddy Garcia, whose final pitching line (three runs, five hits, five walks and four strikeouts in five innings) served as a tribute to his strong navigation skills.
Cano’s April snooze is a distant memory, while Curtis Granderson smoked a third-inning, two-run homer to break a 2-2 tie against Angels starting pitcher Jerome Williams. Rodriguez, hitting third as he usually does against righty starters, enjoyed superb protection on both ends.
And the almost-37-year-old (you have 12 days left to buy him a birthday gift) helped as well from the designated hitter spot. In the sixth, with the Yankees up, 4-3, Rodriguez pulled a Williams outside curveball to left ield and chugged to second base for his 11th double of the season. He came around to score on a Cano single up the middle, giving the Yankees an insurance run, and in the eighth, he added a single and a stolen base.
“The double and the tack-on run, that’s a huge run,” Girardi said. “To make that 5-3, because of all the things this team is capable of doing [on the base]. … That run becomes very important. He had a good day.”
His season? Well, if not “good” — certainly not by the standards Rodriguez has established — it’s respectable. His .355 on-base percentage places him second on the club among regulars, behind only Cano (.374).
His slugging? That’s where you can point and wonder. At .435, his slugging percentage ranks sixth among team regulars, ahead of just Derek Jeter (.413) and Russell Martin (.348). He’s tied with Nick Swisher for fifth with 13 homers, and his double tied him with, yeesh, Martin for sixth.
Yet if you need to choose between a third/fourth hitter who gets on base sufficiently and slugs less so and the opposite, you take what Rodriguez gives you. Let him get on base, and let Cano, Mark Teixeira and the rest of the gang drive him home.
“He’s going to be a guy we talk about all of the time, just because of who he is and the numbers that he’s put up,” Girardi said. Yup, with the “Who he is” covering all sorts of ground. There’s never a scrutiny shortage of A-Rod.
When you scrutinize this lineup, however, where else would you want to hit him? No lower than fifth, right? That’s where he ranks on the team in OPS (on-base plus slugging), at .790. So maybe you bump him up, give an extra handful of plate appearances because who he is. And because of what he might do, based on his history.
If the whole season proceeds like this, though, the Yankees can survive and thrive with Rodriguez in the middle. They have so far, after all. If not, then OK, you try him at fifth. Still a prestigious spot, if less so.
With a contract through 2017, we’ll get to “that point.” Most likely, though, we’ll sit through another presidential election before A-Rod receives a significant downgrade.