TAMPA, Fla. -- Manager Joe Girardi has been hinting at it for a couple of days, but now it's official: When the Yankees open their spring exhibition-game season Wednesday against the Detroit Tigers at George M. Steinbrenner Field, Alex Rodriguez will not be in the lineup.
That's not particularly unusual; managers often hold back veteran players early in the spring, especially those who will turn 41 years old at around the midway point of the season.
But it is somewhat surprising, considering that Girardi has also said A-Rod was ahead of where he was at the same time last spring, when he did, in fact, play in the team's first spring game, getting two at-bats as the designated hitter. Rodriguez has also talked repeatedly of how hard he worked this offseason and how much better he feels this spring, having shed the "excess luggage" of having just come off a 162-game suspension for PED violations.
“I kind of talked to the guys [that] when they needed another day, take another day," Girardi said. "It’s kind of trying to get them on an every-other-day schedule in the beginning and how we want to do it.”
Both Girardi and Rodriguez said A-Rod is likely to play Thursday's home game against the Philadelphia Phillies and Saturday's home game against the Boston Red Sox, avoiding the bus ride to Lakeland for a game against the Tigers on Friday.
Rodriguez, who was brought up to the press box for a brief interview on a day in which the Yankees held no workouts, said, “I’m already off to a head start because I was doing the World Series for Fox here in late October and early November. So, I’ve paced myself. I’m in good shape, and I’m really excited about this season."
The day off from workouts -- Girardi set up a "team-building experience" with an overcaffeinated corporate motivational speaker for the morning and gave the team the rest of the day off -- was a welcome break for A-Rod.
"Today was fun. We laughed a lot," he said. "I’m one who believes we swing too much, anyway. How much can you actually swing or catch a ball? I think it’s important to get to know each other."
Rodriguez said he was more of an observer than a participant in the event, the details of which no Yankee, including the manager, were willing to share with the media. And while he agreed with Girardi's assessment of his condition this spring, Rodriguez characterized it more as emotional than physical fitness.
“I think there’s a lot of weight off my shoulders. That’s probably what he’s seeing," Rodriguez said. "I’m happy. I’m comfortable. It’s great not to be carrying all this luggage and bringing it into our clubhouse. I feel like I can be an asset in that clubhouse and be kind of a senior [leader]. What I like about our team is we have great leaders in our clubhouse, but it’s almost like a board of trustees. There are seven or eight guys that are actually doing great leading, so not one guy has to be the leader. But I feel like I’m a big part of that.”
So who is playing?: Aside from letting us know that A-Rod would not be playing, Girardi was unable to provide the names of which Yankee regulars would take part in the first game. He said he had made out five lineups, one for each of the first five games, but unfortunately had left them down in his office.
Walking-wounded update: Brett Gardner (bone bruise, left wrist) is still scheduled to hit his first real pitches in the indoor cage on Wednesday. Nathan Eovaldi (groin tightness) will throw a bullpen on Thursday. Girardi had nothing new on Chasen Shreve, who was hit in the back with a line drive on Monday, but said no tests were scheduled. "If he's down a couple of days, he's down a couple of days. We'll have to see how he feels."