A-Rod has not earned starting nod
Alex Rodriguez has had a hard time getting in the Yankees’ starting lineup the past two weeks. Thursday night in Game 4 of the Subway Series seemed to be his best chance of cracking into the lineup because Bartolo Colon was the starting pitcher for the Mets.
To say A-Rod has owned “Big Sexy” in his career is a huge understatement. In 52 career at-bats against Colon, Rodriguez has batted .442 with seven doubles, one triple and eight home runs.
Yet when manager Joe Girardi posted his lineup, there was no Rodriguez in it. For the second straight night, the designated hitter role was filled by Gary Sanchez, the Yankees’ prized catching prospect who was recently recalled from Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Sanchez got his first major-league hit, a single to center field in the seventh inning, as part of a 1-for-4 game Wednesday night in the Yankees’ 9-5 victory.
Sanchez had two more hits Thursday night in the 4-1 loss to the Mets that turned this year’s Subway Series into a push as each club won two games. Sanchez scored the Yankees’ run in the seventh. He doubled with one out off Colon and scored on a two-out single by Aaron Hicks off reliever Jerry Blevins. Sanchez beat out an infield single in the ninth off Mets closer Jeurys Familia (38th save) to bring the potential tying run to the plate before Rob Refsnyder grounded into a game-ending double play.
Otherwise, it was all Mets, due largely to Colon (10-6), the 43-year-old marvel who gave up one run, six hits and no walks with one strikeout in 6 1/3 innings. Yankees starter Nathan Eovaldi (9-8) had one bad inning in seven — the fifth — but it was a brutal one.
Kelly Johnson led off with a Yankee Stadium right field porch home run. One out later, Curtis Granderson doubled to left-center. Eovaldi then made a pivotal mistake on a check-swing grounder to the mound by Alejandro De Aza by throwing to second base in an attempt to cut down Granderson, but he slid back into the bag safely, costing the Yanks a possible sure out at first base.
After Neil Walker lined out, Jay Bruce, obtained earlier this week in a trade from the Reds, made his first contribution to the Mets with a three-run home run to right-center. Bruce had been 0-for-10 with four strikeouts since joining the Mets before that homer, his 26th, that raised his National League leading RBI total to 83.
Girardi acknowledged that Rodriguez’s statistics against Colon were “tremendous,” but also pointed out “most of those numbers came many, many years ago.”
Indeed, A-Rod ran up those stats against Colon in the previous decade while he was winning three American League Most Valuable Player Awards against a pitcher who copped an AL Cy Young Award, in 2005 with the Angels. Girardi added that when Rodriguez last faced Colon, in 2012, he was 1-for-6.
As frustrated as Rodriguez may be, at 41 he has not shown much at the plate to warrant his playing regularly. A-Rod started the first five games after the All-Star break and batted .188 with one home run and one RBI in 16 at-bats. He has started once in the past 12 games and struck out four times in that game. Rodriguez has one hit, a single, in his past 19 at-bats as his season batting average has shrunk to .204 with nine homers and 29 RBI in 216 at-bats. He has been stuck at 696 career home runs since July 18.
In defending his decision not to start Rodriguez against Colon, Girardi said most of his problems have come against right-handed pitching. True enough, A-Rod is hitting .196 against righties this year. Wednesday night, he also sat against a left-handed starter, Steven Matz, but Rodriguez has not exactly lit it up against lefties, either (.219).
Girardi denied that he was being told by the front office not to play Rodriguez, who is under contract through the 2017 season. And despite reports suggesting that the Yankees have discussed releasing Rodriguez and eating the $27 million due him over the remainder of his contract, general manager Brian Cashman told ESPN Radio there have been no such talks.
“First and foremost, you just have to flat-out admit, it is not easy to eat — meaning release — that kind of money,” Cashman said. “It’s not something you come to a quick decision on. You see players — and I don’t want to name them because they are still playing — but there are players around the game who are on big contracts that have been well-below-average players now for many years, not just a year. Alex hit 33 home runs last year. This is a bigger media market and more attention, and there is certainly a tempest about what should be done. All I can tell you is, slow down a little bit and here is the counterarguments: There is a very large financial commitment through next year on a player of Alex’s caliber that was productive as early as last year.”
The financial considerations are for the front office to worry about. That is not the manager’s concern. He has to put the players in the lineup that give his team the best chance to win. It has been some time since Rodriguez fit into that equation.
I remember years ago talking to a manager who had an aging superstar on his team. The manager said, “The best piece of advice I got from a managing mentor of mine was not to argue with your general manager over the 25th player on the roster and try not to let a star fall on you.”
It is one of the most difficult assignments for any manager, to find a way for a player well past his prime to maintain his dignity while dealing with severely diminished skills.
Also missing from the lineup was Mark Teixeira, who had a big game Wednesday night (three-run home run, two walks, hit by a pitch). The HBP by Matz left Tex with a bruised left shin.
Earning a return to the rotation was Luis Severino, who got his first victory of the season for not allowing an earned run in 4 1/3 innings in relief of Chad Green, who was optioned to SWB. Severino will start next Tuesday night at Boston.