Each day, Alex Rodriguez surprises himself. He surprises the Yankees.
There was little chance last winter that what has happened would happen. There were reports that Rodriguez would break down in spring training. There were others that indicated the Yankees would find a way to make him disappear.
They have not paid him a $6 million bonus for reaching 660 home runs, which is an addendum to his contract. So now, in mid-June, amid all the things that didn’t happen, we’re suddenly discussing the All-Star Game.
“It would be an honor for me to be named to the All-Star Game,” Rodriguez said in the visiting clubhouse at Camden Yards Friday, at the same locker where David Ortiz stood the day before. “The fact you’re even asking me about it is music to my ears. I have no idea if that will happen, but if it does it’s going to be an honor I’ll never forget.”
Quite a statement for a player approaching 3,000 hits and who surpassed 2,000 RBIs on Saturday. Quite a statement from a soon-to-be 40-year-old who a year ago was lost, his future in doubt. Baseball had levied a 211-game suspension, which was knocked down to 162. Rodriguez was caught in lies about his use of steroids. He seemed in denial for so long until he finally set himself free. To this day, he has never failed a urine or blood test for PEDs or human growth hormone. He was caught through paperwork.
He gets booed everywhere he goes, but then again, he always got booed. He often has joked, “I’ve been one continuous boo for many years.”
This is his life. While thousands of other players used PEDs and never got caught, Rodriguez knows he’ll always pay the price for being one of a small percentage of players who did get caught. He knows he’ll always be the subject of the question, “Is he doing them now?” He’ll never escape that scrutiny and the whispers behind his back. And he knows that’s fair.
But at Yankee Stadium he finds his refuge.
The audience there understands Rodriguez did many things wrong, but they also understand that hitting a baseball as well as he has for so many years isn’t about steroids.
Maybe the length of home runs and recovery from injuries and wear and tear is about steroids, but anyone who has ever hit a major league pitch knows steroids don’t make you identify a changeup or slider that you square up perfectly and hit out of the park. You do that because your talent is superior to the majority of players in the game.
“It’s been a lot of fun being on this team again,” Rodriguez said. “[Mark Teixeira] has really done a great job carrying this team. Back a couple of years ago we’d hit 3-4 in the lineup, and now its flip-flopped. It’s great to be back with him in the lineup. Tex is healthy and done some damage this year.”
Teixeira and other Yankee veterans have noted Rodriguez’s contribution beyond his hitting. They’ve noted how he’s reached out and helped younger players.
“I think I have some wisdom on the field on things I’ve done,” said Rodriguez, “and if I can share that with younger players, I’m more than willing to do it.”
Shortstop Didi Gregorius may never have seen Rodriguez play shortstop, but he now works out with him almost daily.
“He does things that people on the outside just don’t know about,” Teixeira said. “He’s been a great teammate and leader.”
Leader. That’s a word that has rarely been associated with Rodriguez. But time has changed him.
The Yankees have been out in front of the topsy-turvy American League East. Rodriguez remains the biggest story on the Yankees, and maybe in baseball. Can he last the entire year?
“There are days I feel like 40 and sometimes 50,” he said. “But I think Joe [Girardi] has done an amazing job figuring out what is the best thing for me.”
Could Rodriguez play third base every day if Chase Headley went down?
“I’ve really been able to get into the DH role and all it entails,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t even want to think about someone getting hurt. We have enough injuries around here. We want people healthy so we can have our full lineup out there every night.”
When it was mentioned that the Yankees are old, Rodriguez laughed and said, “We are. But we’ve also got some talent around this room.”
Rodriguez knows his playing time has to be managed, but he resists.
“I love to play,” he said. “I sat out long enough last year. It’s a great feeling to be back doing what I love.”
Diamondbacks made changes on their own
The Arizona Diamondbacks don’t want to talk about it, but they extended the netting at Chase Field last season on their own to better protect fans.
Why don’t they want to discuss it? Probably not to rub it in as other teams await an edict from Major League Baseball to do so.
At the start of the 2014 season, the Diamondbacks extended their netting, which is 30 feet high, from 73 to 150 feet in length.
In light of the awful incident at Fenway involving Tonya Carpenter, who suffered life-threatening injuries when hit by a broken bat June 5, there have been a lot of suggestions regarding how to better protect fans.
In 2008, brothers Philip and Stephen Rauso developed a tape that contains bat fractures but doesn’t affect the performance of the bat. It was tested at MLB’s research facility at UMass-Lowell and tested well. But it was never put to use by MLB.
The tape was clear and testing against velocities of more than 125 miles per hour showed bat fractures were contained.
Also, David R. Zavagno, president of University Medical Systems in Cleveland, recently wrote, “A 15-second image set acquired from a CT scanner may have averted a serious injury recently incurred by a fan attending a Red Sox game on June 5. The same life-saving technology used in thousands of hospitals producing millions of images per year is easily adaptable to scanning both production or current use baseball bats.
“The long history of both fan and player injuries due to shattering bats has created an immediate need to establish upgraded testing protocols and wood content standards using X-ray technologies. There is highly effective X-ray/CT technology available to characterize the wood quality of major league baseball bats to detect flaws or defects after construction and during the season.”
Apropos of nothing
1. Pace of play initiatives are working. Red Sox chairman Tom Werner, at the forefront of this effort, has been thrilled with the results. The initiatives have shaved 10 minutes off the average time of games from last season. And while prolonged at-bats have long been the biggest culprit when it comes to long games, the tide seems to be changing to shorter, more aggressive at-bats, and even 10-pitch or longer at-bats are taking less time, according to the MLB office, because batters have to keep one foot in the box, which means pitchers are staying on the rubber. As for pace of play fines? There have been very few. Less than 10 percent of hitters have been fined, and there have been few repeat offenders, according to an MLB source.
2. Red Sox special adviser Dr. Charles Steinberg is helping former commissioner Bud Selig with his memoirs and Sox CEO Larry Lucchino with the Providence stadium issues for the Pawtucket Red Sox.
3. As beautiful as AT&T Park is, Giants hitters love to get away. The Giants entered Friday averaging a major league-best 5.2 runs in road games. They were leading the majors in road batting average (.289), on-base percentage (.346), and slugging (.449). Outfielder Nori Aoki led the majors with a .418 road average and .492 road OBP.
4. Some head-scratching calls recently after video review. Does New York not have the same replays as the ballparks?
5. Though the Red Sox were always perceived to be in the buyer category come the trade deadline, their performance is making a couple of teams that we know of view them as possible sellers. Players that teams would likely eye would be Ryan Hanigan when he returns from a hand injury in early July, Tommy Layne, Junichi Tazawa, Mike Napoli, Wade Miley, Clay Buchholz, and if he gets healthy, Shane Victorino.
6. The Astros, Cubs, and Twins, all stacked with legitimate major league prospects, have made playoff pushes a little earlier than expected. There’s already some fading taking place. Question is, which of the three will hold on for 162 games and make the playoffs?
7. The draftniks hated the Angels’ selection of Fresno State catcher Taylor Ward at No. 26 because Chris Betts, Austin Rei, and Lucas Herbert were all ranked ahead of him. But don’t forget who took the final look at Ward before he was selected — Mike Scioscia — and nobody knows catchers better than Scioscia.
8. Andrew Miller has been texting some of his former Orioles teammates. The consensus is that Miller feels his forearm strain isn’t serious and he’ll be able to return after some rest. He’s on the 15-day disabled list, and that could be enough time to clear it up.
9. The Rangers drafted 11 pitchers who are 6 feet 5 inches or taller.
Updates on nine
1. Kendrys Morales, DH, Royals — If MLB is looking for an out not to name Alex Rodriguez to the All-Star Game, it could justify Morales as the American League’s DH. Morales had 41 RBIs entering the weekend and was clearly the top full-time DH. Seattle’s Nelson Cruz has spent two-thirds of his time in the outfield but leads the voting at DH.
2. Scott Kazmir, LHP, Athletics — Not that he was ever off the radar, but teams wanted to see a healthy Kazmir after an elbow scare that caused him to miss one start. Over the next couple of weeks, Kazmir will be monitored by the many interested teams to make sure he remains healthy. But after his last start against the hot Rangers, when he went eight innings and threw 90 miles per hour early and 95 in the eighth inning, evaluators came away impressed.
3. Jon Lester, LHP, Cubs — Lester’s woes have been linked to poor defense behind him, according to a Cubs source. Sloppy play by some of the young players hasn’t helped Lester’s cause, but he isn’t making excuses. He has left some pitches up and hasn’t finished others. Lester is beating himself up over it, saying, “I’ve got to be better than this.”
4. Aroldis Chapman, LHP, Reds — The question being asked among scouts: Would the Reds really deal Chapman if push came to shove? Most say no. But Chapman could bring a pretty big haul. He isn’t striking out batters at the rate he used to (he struck out more than half the batters he faced in 2014, and is about 30 percent this season), yet that high-90s fastball is still there. He remains one of the most exciting names on the trade market if general manager Walt Jocketty makes him available.
5. Jonathan Papelbon, RHP, Phillies — Papelbon remains on the Blue Jays’ radar, with the Phillies eyeing Toronto Triple A lefthander Daniel Norris, but the same issue is coming into play, Papelbon’s salary. The remainder of the $13 million for this season isn’t the problem, it’s the vesting option of $13 million for 2016. It vests with 55 games finished or 100 games finished between 2014 and ’15, which means that entering the weekend he was only 26 games finished away from triggering the option. Barring injury, that shouldn’t be a problem. He can also block deals to 17 teams, though at this point that feature to his contract is likely moot. Fact is, Papelbon is still very good. He has a 0.917 WHIP with 29 strikeouts in 24 innings. Only six walks, 16 hits, and one home run allowed. And consider this, Papelbon is one of the biggest adrenaline pitchers in the game. Not much to muster up in Philly these days.
6. Brandon Phillips, 2B, Reds — The Reds have many trade candidates, from Johnny Cueto to Mike Leake to Jay Bruce to Chapman. Two names you usually don’t hear are Joey Votto, because of his enormous contract, and Phillips. Phillips’s name has surfaced recently with scouts covering the Reds, but I just don’t buy it. He’s making $12 million this season, and then $13 million in 2016 and $14 million in 2017. Maybe too much for a second baseman who will be 34 later this month. But Phillips, a four-time Gold Glover nursing a sore groin, is having a decent year (.306 with three home runs and 25 RBIs).
7. Ben Revere, OF, Phillies — As one Phillies executive put it, “Why wouldn’t you want Ben Revere? Not many guys can steal 50 bags [49 last year], lead the league in hits [184 in 2014], and give you decent defense.” Revere is hitting .268 with 12 steals and a league-leading five triples, but an on-base percentage of only .308. The Mariners and Angels seem the most interested.
8. Brady Aiken, LHP, Indians — Aiken may wind up being the biggest steal in the draft. Yes, he’s coming off Tommy John surgery, but he would have been the top pick in the draft by the Astros last season had he not walked away from a reduced offer after the Astros discovered red flags with his elbow, which turned out to be true. The Indians got him at No. 17. “Is it better to get a kid who has already had [Tommy John] or draft a kid who is going to get it, which so many of them do?” asked one National League talent evaluator. “That’s why I think the Indians were brilliant on this one. He’s still the best pitcher in this draft.”
9. Mason Williams, CF, Yankees — Williams, a 23-year-old prospect, grew up in Pawtucket and was one of the kids who dropped plastic milk bottles down to the PawSox dugout to get autographs. “I was at McCoy Stadium a lot as a kid,” Williams said. “It was a lot of fun there. Saw a lot of great players.” Williams, like most fans from Pawtucket, is disappointed the team may move to a new facility in Providence. “A lot of people I know are upset about that,” he said.
From the Bill Chuck files — “AL teams are hitting .236 vs. relief pitchers. The Royals (who don’t have to face their own bullpen) have the highest average at .270; the Red Sox have the lowest at .207.” Also, “No batter has had a higher percentage of hits to center field than Prince Fielder at 46 percent.” . . . Happy birthday, Luis Aponte (62).