March 21, 2011
Just two years after a torn labrum in his hip threatened to sideline Alex Rodriguez(notes) for more than half of the 2009 season, the New York Yankees slugger has recovered enough of his powerful potency to turn heads with towering home runs and gaudy statistics — albeit in spring training.
In an 8-1 win over the Phillies on Sunday, Rodriguez was slotted at DH and hit his fourth home run in his last five games. And yet, despite collecting a hit in every single game he's started this spring and tallying a whopping 1.475 OPS, those 13 games and mere 40 plate appearances represent the smallest of sample sizes.
But with his hip nearly 100 percent recovered, Rodriguez can get back to the two things he loves the most: Being fed popcorn by hand and hitting home runs. Zach Berman of the Newark Star-Ledger reports:
"What it is, is the best I can do, and people can care less about excuses," Rodriguez said. "They want to see results, and so do we."
The improvements are evident. He's better able to square up on the ball now that there's free range in his hips, (manager Joe) Girardi said. Rodriguez played through the pain and accumulated All-Star caliber statistics, but he's now hitting at a level not witnessed since his three MVP seasons.
"I feel a little more consistent, a little more energized and, for the most part, my body feels healthy," Rodriguez said, later adding it's the healthiest he's felt in "years."
Fire up the "best shape of my life" cliché signal, folks. But in this case, Rodriguez might be in the best shape of the past four years, dropping 10 pounds, lowering his body fat to 9 percent, and rotating his hip without the fear that his labrum muscle will snap and pop out like a broken rubber band.
When the labrum tear was discovered in March of '09, the Yankees opted against surgery and instead put Rodriguez on a rest, rehab and relaxation plan. He had a large cyst removed from his hip, missed all of spring training, and sat out the first month of the season. Yankees manager Joe Girardi only penciled A-Rod's name into 124 games in 2009, a career low for a guy who averaged well over 150 games each year of his 20s. But just like recovering from the common cold, the prescription of rest worked like a charm. Rodriguez's OPS of .933 was still sixth in the AL and his power continued into the postseason, helping the Yankees win the World Series, Rodriguez's first.
If the Yankees expect to contend with the Red Sox and Rays in the division this season, they'll need to mitigate a left side of the infield with a combined age equal to Al Pacino. With Alex Rodriguez having his best spring in years and Derek Jeter(notes) revamping his hitting mechanics, the plan is off to a good start.