MLB.com Columnist

Lyle Spencer

A-Rod brings game to another level vs. Angels

A-Rod brings game to another level vs. Angels

ANAHEIM -- Alex Rodriguez has had a nice career against the Angels alone: 70 homers, 165 RBIs, 173 runs scored and 251 hits with a .322 batting average and .654 slugging percentage in 201 games.

That doesn't include his three homers, six RBIs and .429 average in a 2009 American League Championship Series that served as the Yankees' springboard to a World Series title -- and devastated the Angels faithful.

No opposing player in the history of the Angels franchise has come close to the damage A-Rod has inflicted against them. At Angel Stadium, in 100 games, he has produced 38 homers, 86 RBIs, a .325 batting average and .675 slugging percentage.

No wonder he was in such a good mood when he reached Orange County's ballpark on Monday afternoon, engaging a West Coast sportswriter in a lively 15-minute conversation about the 1980s "Showtime" Lakers and one of his favorite childhood athletes, Magic Johnson.

Rodriguez, having joined Willie Mays and Hank Aaron in an exclusive club housing men with 3,000 hits and 600 home runs, is clearly at ease with himself, simply enjoying the game he loves. He is animated on and off the field, stretching almost as often as former teammate Ichiro Suzuki in order to stay loose and limber.

Rodriguez's numbers four weeks shy of his 40th birthday are All-Star Game worthy. He's seventh in the league in on-base percentage (.389) and on-base plus slugging (.909) as a designated hitter. Among those ahead of him in both categories is the Angels' Mike Trout, checking in at .390 and .973.

Rodriguez is running fifth among DH candidates in the balloting for the July 14 Midsummer Classic in Cincinnati - surprising in some respects, not so much in others.

There are some big boppers in that category, including leader Nelson Cruz of the Mariners. And there is the dicey issue of Rodriguez's image. He doesn't appear hung up at all about that, and you don't need a medical degree to conclude that's a healthy approach for him to adopt at this stage of the game.

Those close to him are happy to see that he's back to being Alex, having shed layers of A-Rod for comfort's sake. The upshot is that he's enjoying and savoring the daily competition, leaving the judgments to others.

For all the gaudy numbers he has racked up against Angels pitching over the years, Rodriguez has had his struggles against C. J. Wilson, the man he engaged in Monday night's series opener.

Coming into the game, A-Rod was 3-for-24 (.125) with one extra-base hit, a double, against the veteran lefty. Wilson addressed his history with Rodriguez after the DH had gone 1-for-2 with a walk in their personal business, his opposite-field single driving in the lone Yankees run in a 4-1 loss.

"Certain guys have a hole [in their swing], and you hit it and they're out, every time," Wilson said. "Those guys don't stick around long. With A-Rod, the hole is always shifting.

"I enjoy facing those types of guys. When I first came up, Chone Figgins was the most difficult hitter I faced; he was 5-foot-8. When you've got a guy who's 6-foot-4 with a power swing and power zone, you don't throw the ball there. You try to use their energy against them.

"It's all chess out there. When you don't throw 100 miles an hour or have a wipeout [Max] Scherzer slider, you have the challenge of using what you have. I feel confident I have six or seven pitches I can use."

So there they were, at it again, Wilson and Rodriguez moving the pieces around the board in their confrontation within the larger competition.

When Rodriguez took big cuts, trying to get a run with one swing, Wilson was in control.

"The harder you swing," Wilson said, "the more often you miss."

On the single to right in the third inning, Rodriguez stayed within himself and made what Wilson called "casual contact." It had nothing to do with his legendary power.

"It was a relaxation thing he had," Wilson said.

Because Rodriguez decided less was more in that situation, he had a rare upper hand in their chess match.

Wilson was content to depart with the win, his job professionally done with the benefit of superb defense, notably from Trout in center. Rodriguez left the park with the comfort that he'd be back on Tuesday night for another round of competition against a brand new arm, Andrew Heaney.

A young lefty coming off a solid Angels debut -- six innings, one run yielded against the Astros -- Heaney would be spending some time with Wilson in the clubhouse. It's always a good idea to try to unlock a secret or two when you're about to deal with a man in possession of 669 home runs, 2,014 RBIs and 3,011 hits.

Lyle Spencer is a national reporter and columnist for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @LyleMSpencer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.