MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

Heeding Girardi's advice, A-Rod swats No. 689

Halting 0-for-19 slide, Yankees slugger stops 'feeling for the baseball'

Heeding Girardi's advice, A-Rod swats No. 689

NEW YORK -- Alex Rodriguez broke out of his 0-for-19 slump Sunday -- at least, for one at-bat. And now it's time to give A-Rod and Yankees manager Joe Girardi a break.

A-Rod crushed a two-run homer into the left-field seats at Yankee Stadium on the first pitch he saw from Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma in the second inning. The homer, his second of the season and 689th of his career, was essential to the 4-3 victory and the Yanks salvaging the finale of the three-game series.

Rodriguez then finished the game with three more hitless at-bats, including two more strikeouts, giving him 13 in the nine games he has played. Rodriguez, whose only two hits in his last 24 at-bats have been the homers, needed to walk out of the clubhouse Sunday feeling good about his contribution. It sounded as if he did.

"I'm 3-for-30, I wish I was hitting .330, not 3-for-30," said A-Rod, underplaying his numbers a bit -- he's 4-for-34 with four RBIs and batting .118. "[Hitting the homer] feels good. It's a work in progress, and you've got to chip away. It's a long season."

It is a long season, and for A-Rod, it had been a long weekend. Girardi rested him Friday night. On Saturday, A-Rod was back in his regular No. 3 slot in the lineup but went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts. On Sunday, Rodriguez found himself batting sixth and the hotter-hitting Carlos Beltran (.341 with three homers and seven RBIs) in the third spot.

After the Yankees lost Saturday for the fourth time in a row, Girardi was asked if he might shuffle the lineup. He demurred. On Sunday, the lineup was indeed shuffled, and Girardi was asked how and when he made that decision.

"I don't like to make decisions on a whim, and before I make decisions, I like to communicate with my players," he said before the game. "There are a lot of times I'll sit at this table and have an idea what I want to do, but I haven't had a chance to communicate it with the player. It's not going to be given to you first. Sorry."

Girardi had a little sitdown with the 40-year-old Rodriguez on Saturday and told him he would be dropped in the order. He then posted the lineup for all to see Sunday.

"I just let [Rodriguez] know. He'd been struggling," Girardi said. "Carlos had had some success off Iwakuma, and I decided to make the change. As I said before the game, it's not necessarily permanent. [Last year] Alex started seventh in our lineup and worked his way up. I just decided to change it up a little bit today. I'm not sure what I'm going to do on Tuesday."

On Tuesday night, the Yankees will open a three-game series against the A's. But that's 48 hours away. On Sunday, the important aspect was that A-Rod listened to his manager and went up to the plate in the second inning with sheer determination. He jumped on an inside fastball from Iwakuma and ripped it.

"Actually, Joe gave me some good advice [Saturday]," A-Rod said. "He told me to stop feeling for the baseball and just drive it. That was good advice. I didn't try to do too much. I just put a good swing on it."

Asked about that meeting with Girardi, Rodriguez added:

"It's always good. Whatever Joe wants, I'm here to do. I love Joe. He knows best. He gave me some good advice, and I hit a home run. Sometimes you have to do that. You have to shuffle the deck a little bit. Whatever it takes to win, I'm willing to do."

Rodriguez has this year and next year to go on his contract and a bunch of milestones to shoot for. Becoming only the fourth player in Major League history and the second right-handed hitter to reach the 700 plateau is a mere 11 homers away.

Fellow Yankees slugger Babe Ruth, in third place on the all-time home run list at 714, is 25 away. A-Rod will be 41 on July 27. He hit 33 homers last season, and both of those marks are certainly within reach this year.

A-Rod said Sunday that getting to 700 is the "last thing I'm thinking about right now. I'm just glad I was able to contribute today and help us win."

"You just want a consistent approach," he said. "You know, you worry about the process, not so much the results. I thought my swings were good. You wish for better results, but the process was pretty good. Things will turn around. Today was a good start."

Even Girardi isn't sure that moving A-Rod three notches down in the lineup took off any of the mental pressure.

"I don't know," Girardi said. "You've heard me say it a thousand times: Pressure comes from within. Every player wants to do well, and I think that's where the most pressure comes from."

All Girardi knows is that the move worked Sunday -- for one at-bat, anyway.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.