DUNEDIN, FL - AUGUST 12: Designated hitter Alex Rodriguez of the Tampa Yankees doubles in the third inning against the Dunedin Blue Jays August 12, 2011 at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin, Florida. Rodriguez played during a rehabilitation assignment. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Hand injuries have a reputation for lingering and the past few seasons have given us too many opportunities to watch a hobbled Alex Rodriguez. Healthy enough to take the field, but without the effortless power to all fields that made him a star. Age and injuries have taken most of that away, but we still get glimpses of his great ability -- glimpses that normally coincide with his good health.
So a hand injury in the middle of the season was a really crappy thing to have happen, obviously. You would expect A-Rod to come back, but would he still show lingering effects, diminished bat speed, and reduced power? The smart money would have been on all of the above, especially out of the gate. But in the thirteen games since his return, Rodriguez is hitting at a very solid .288/.351/.500 clip.
Thirteen games is thirteen games and I won't promise you a resurgent A-Rod. The careers of guys in their late thirties tend to only go in one direction and we've already seen it happen. We've also seen that he can still go on a hot streak, still catch up to a fastball over the plate, and still make strong throws across the diamond. What I take from this is the following: If A-Rod's hand injury was going to linger and if he was going to struggle to get his timing and swing back, it most likely would have happened right away. Unless he re-aggravates the injury, the most dangerous time has passed. And it passed with Rodriguez contributing an .850 OPS.
Giving A-Rod time at designated hitter has been a big part of Joe Girardi's plan to keep Rodriguez on the field. In his thirteen games back, A-Rod has been the DH in six. His 141 plate appeareances as a DH this season shatters his previous career high -- fifty in 2010 -- and he has excelled in that role, hitting .325/.383/.516 when not taking the field. While that is probably an artifact of small sample size, it is encouraging to think that A-Rod's inevitable transition off of third base will not be accompanied with a Posadian "but I don't like being a DH."
In that regard, Eric Chavez being productive and (shockingly) healthy has given the Yankees the ability to be more cautious with Rodriguez than they would have been otherwise. Every day starter Jayson Nix would have really worn people down. While Chavez has run into a dry spell (.212/.263/.250 over his last 57 PA), he has been one of the most surprising contributors to this team.
I will conclude with two stray points that don't seem to really fit in with the central thrust of this post, but I find interesting and want to relay. One: A-Rod has been doing a whole lot of whiffing, only making contact on 67.1% of his swings. To give that some context, Ichiro Suzuki -- who is great at putting the bat on the ball -- has a contact percent of 91.3% this season. Mark Reynolds -- who is Mark Reynolds -- has a contact percent of 69.0%. Despite his good numbers since coming back from the disabled list, A-Rod has been making contact like Mark Reynolds. Just something to keep your eye on.
Two: If it seems like A-Rod has been getting a lot of hits back up the middle, it's because he has. People love to say that using the middle of the field is a good indicator of a hitter's timing and approach. I think that those people are probably stretching it, but there could be a kernel of truth there.
Enjoy this sunny post about a good stretch of games from A-Rod. The next one could be a lot less fun as we ride the roller coaster of the twilight of his career.