Yankees slugger attempted same thing last year but never got comfortable
By Nick Suss
NEW YORK -- Between his three American League MVP Awards, two Gold Gloves, 10 Silver Sluggers and membership in the exclusive 3,000 hit, 600 home run and 40-40 season clubs, Alex Rodriguez has done just about everything a baseball player can do. But even at 40 years old, A-Rod still has one more thing to learn in order to help his club.
For the second time in as many years, Rodriguez is training as a first baseman, trying to add depth to a Yankees club that has had some health issues at the position. Last year Rodriguez couldn't get comfortable manning the spot, appearing in just two games (one start). But, being that A-Rod was a career infielder before becoming a full-time designated hitter, manager Joe Girardi thinks that this year the issue with comfort should be all mental.
"Physically I think he has the skills," Girardi said. "He has the hands, he has the ability to throw, he understands the game. So I think it's more of a mental thing: 'Do I feel comfortable enough to play first base?'"
Girardi said he thinks this time will be different because of the fact that Rodriguez initiated the experiment. It was Rodriguez's idea to get back practicing the position, something he started doing during the All-Star break and began working at on the field before Friday's 5-3 loss to the Red Sox.
Rodriguez agreed with that summation, saying that just because things didn't work out in 2015 doesn't mean the same will be true this year. One big reason for this is the shift in his role -- in 2015 A-Rod was an everyday DH, but now he's been reduced to more of a part-time role.
When Mark Teixeira, Dustin Ackley and Chris Parmelee all went down with injuries in the first half, the Yankees had to teach rookie Rob Refsnyder, a natural outfielder, how to play first. Because of how quickly Girardi saw Refsnyder pick up the position, he said he's comfortable that a veteran with as much infield savvy as Rodriguez can pick it up with no problem.
"First base is a lot more challenging than I think people give it credit," Rodriguez said. "For me, it's one of the most underrated parts of a defensive team. If you look at the work that Teixeira's done for over a decade -- tonight he started the game with a great play. You affect every infielder, you affect the outfielders. Sometimes the catcher, too."
That said, Girardi thought A-Rod looked solid on the field pregame Friday.
"When I watched him today he looked fairly comfortable," Girardi said. "I know there's a lot of situations that come up during a game that are hard to prepare for. I get that. I think it's more mental for him. He is an infielder who knows how to throw the ball and hit the ball. So I think it's just feeling more comfortable around the bag."
Providing Rodriguez does get more comfortable around the bag, Girardi said he wouldn't hesitate to play him at first base, especially against left-handed pitching. That would work out well for the Yankees, as Teixeira is still recuperating from the right knee injury that put him on the disabled list in June and needs days off every fourth or fifth day.
• After spending the last couple of weeks in the bullpen, Nathan Eovaldi is set to return to the starting rotation on Tuesday against the Orioles. Eovaldi, who is 7-6 with a 5.11 ERA, has made three appearances out of the bullpen after being relegated to relief work -- including 1 1/3 scoreless innings on Friday -- and Girardi said he saw what he needed to see to return Eovaldi to the rotation. The main improvement that Girardi saw came with Eovaldi's splitter, which the manager said Eovaldi is throwing over the plate with more consistency.
Chad Green, who had been starting in Eovaldi's stead, is back with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and Girardi said the Yankees' plan is for Green to stay there in the immediate future.
Nick Suss is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.