A-Rod's struggles force Yankees to reduce his role
DETROIT -- A man who not that long ago was baseball's biggest superstar has now been essentially reduced to -- at most -- the role of a platoon third baseman.
The New York Yankees, in both deed and word, have demoted Alex Rodriguez to a truly part-time position. As the right-handed half of the platoon, he would start against a left-handed pitcher. None of the four starters working for the Detroit Tigers in the American League Championship Series fits that description.
If the Yankees were to stage a miraculous comeback from their current 3-0 deficit in the ALCS, Rodriguez would have to pull for San Francisco to be the National League opponent in the World Series. The Giants currently have two left-handed starters in their postseason rotation, Madison Bumgarner and Barry Zito. If, on the other hand, the Cardinals win the NL pennant, there would be no left-handers in the rotation, with Jaime Garcia unlikely to make a start due to an ailing left shoulder.
Before Game 4 was rained out Wednesday night, Rodriguez was out of the Yankees' lineup. The game is now scheduled for Thursday, but A-Rod isn't expected to be in the lineup then, either. Hard-throwing right-hander Max Scherzer was scheduled to start for the Tigers. Rodriguez had also been out of the starting lineup for Game 5 of the AL Division Series, and Game 3 of this series, both times against right-handed pitchers.
The view of those individuals who make the calls in these matters, general manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi, is that A-Rod's struggles against right-handers have reached the point that they must find alternatives at third base.
Against right-handers in this postseason, Rodriguez is 0-for-18, with 12 strikeouts. His at-bats against right-handers have been characterized by swings and misses on pitches in the strike zone.
Cashman made himself available to the media at Comerica Park before Game 4. He said that the offensive shortcomings by several Yankees regulars, including Rodriguez, had made it necessary for the team to look at alternatives. In the case of Rodriguez, the alternative has been left-handed-hitting Eric Chavez. Unfortunately, Chavez has not held up his end of the platoon situation, going 0-for-14 in the postseason.
"Opportunities will exist to continue to get back off that mat and get back in the ring and battle," Cashman said of A-Rod's playing time in the near future. "And Alex is going to wait for that opportunity. Right now it looks like in theory we'll do that against left-handed pitching, right now, in this particular time, in this particular moment.
"That doesn't mean that he's done, that he's finished, that he is not capable. He is still a big threat, but for whatever reason, right now we are adjusting to what we are seeing."
And what they're seeing is Rodriguez striking out against right-handers. Cashman said that the reduction in Rodriguez's roll was not merely a reflection of a postseason slump, but of trends dating back through the regular season.
"This isn't just a short-term decision," Cashman said. "It's a short-term decision based on the strikeouts that have occurred against the right-handed pitching during the playoffs. But if you look at his splits versus right-handed pitching and left-handed pitching for the season, it's not a short-term sample.
"So he has struggled with right-handed pitching this year altogether. It's .600 OPS, somewhere in the .600s OPS against right-handed pitching for the season. He's .900 and change OPS against left-handed pitching. So there's a radical split there, for whatever reason. And it's obviously gotten worse here in the postseason for some reason with the strikeouts."
Rodriguez was, not at all surprisingly, unhappy with the decisions that left him on the bench.
"I'm obviously not doing somersaults," he told reporters prior to Game 4. "I'm not happy about it. Obviously you come to the ballpark feeling that you can help the team win, and when you see your name is not in the lineup, you're obviously disappointed. You've got to just shift to being a cheerleader and also make sure that you're ready when your number is called."
Rodriguez said this episode would not damage his long-term relationship with Girardi and would not diminish his desire to remain with the Yankees.
"The one thing I will give Joe a lot of credit is, he's been very good to me over the years, so he has a lot of equity with me," A-Rod said. "And for me, it's just tough. I'm a competitor, it's all I've known since I was 5 years old. ... I really feel that in my heart anytime I'm in that lineup the team is a better team, without any question. We'll disagree there to the end, but I like Joe, I support Joe.
"I love the Yankees. I love this organization. My focus right now is to help this team come together and win a game."
The questions about the long-term relationship between Rodriguez and the Yankees have plenty of validity, since he has five years and $114 million left on his $275 million, 10-year contract. He is baseball's most highly paid player, and at the moment, he also appears to be an amazingly well-paid part-time player.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.