A-Rod goes deep for first time in a month

Career home run No. 696 an encouraging sign for Yankees slugger

A-Rod goes deep for first time in a month

NEW YORK -- Leading off the second inning on Monday night, Alex Rodriguez -- who had been sitting on 695 career home runs for exactly a month as his season-long struggles at the plate continued and his playing time slipped -- unloaded on a Kevin Gausman fastball, driving it a Statcast-projected 423 feet into the left-field bleachers at Yankee Stadium.

"Finally," he said after the Yankees' 2-1 win in their series opener against the American League East-leading Orioles. "It was a long time."

Before the game, Rodriguez was out on the field doing early batting-practice work with hitting coach Alan Cockrell. It was the same drill developed by former Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long and popularized by Robinson Cano -- a net dividing the plate in half lengthwise, to make sure Rodriguez's swing stayed short, while he worked on hitting the ball in the air.

"Mechanics have been a humongous struggle for me all year," Rodriguez said. "I've been really bad this year. And I've been working my butt off and just haven't been able to figure it out."

Rodriguez talks about homer, win

And in Rodriguez's first swing of the game, he cleared his hands through Gausman's offering with his classic one-handed swing and let fly, opening the scoring and pulling within four home runs of 700.

"That was one of the best swings I've seen him take in a while," said catcher Brian McCann. "It was an amazing swing."

Rodriguez, though, said his thoughts were elsewhere than the milestone he's approaching.

"I haven't hit one in so long, not really," Rodriguez said. "Every game is so important right now. We definitely want to keep all the guys around and keep this team together."

The Yankees' win pulled them back to .500, but they're still in fourth place in the AL East and five games out of a Wild Card spot. Facing the looming, unusual possibility of becoming sellers by the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline, they know they need to make a run over the next several weeks, and Rodriguez's bat could be critical for that. His ninth home run of the season was a sign to his teammates that he could be getting on track.

"A-Rod, that has been his game all his life," said Carlos Beltran, a potential trade candidate. "The past games that he has played, he's been taking his 'A' swing all the time. It's good to see him taking his 'A' swing and hopefully being able to do damage the way he did today."

Monday's home run was only one swing, but it was a big one for the Yankees and for Rodriguez.

"I haven't hit a ball like that in a long time," Rodriguez said. "It certainly felt good."

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.