A-Rod's aches could prove hurtful

CHICAGO -- Alex Rodriguez and Joe Girardi gave their best efforts to downplay the injury to A-Rod's left shoulder after the New York Yankees' 10-4 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Sunday night at Wrigley Field.

Girardi repeated what he had told ESPNNewYork.com before the game, that Rodriguez's left shoulder was "just sore." Rodriguez did his typical non-denial denial, but acknowledged that he had been receiving treatment on the injury "for probably about 10 days."

Both insisted that it was "nothing serious," or, to borrow A-Rod's phrase, "nothing out of the ordinary, just the normal bumps and bruises you get over the course of a long season."

And both denied the injury was "a strain," as another clubhouse source had said before the game.

But in a private conversation at his locker after his mini-press conference had broken up, Rodriguez acknowledged that the problem, whatever it is, goes back a lot farther than 10 days. It goes back, in fact, to a series against the Texas Rangers in Arlington, Texas, in the first week of May.

Reminded that he was seen wincing while removing a jacket in the visitor's clubhouse at Rangers Ballpark, Rodriguez smiled. Told that he was seen not only with a heat pack, but an ice wrap as well as exercising with small dumbbells under the supervision of the Yankee trainers, A-Rod nodded.

"I'm very impressed," he said. "You're paying attention to the details."

So, how serious is the injury?

"It's not bad," he said. "It's like what I told you guys out there, just normal soreness."

But when the soreness belongs to the highest-paid player in baseball, the cleanup hitter in the New York Yankees lineup and the only active player with a chance to set the all-time home run record, there is nothing normal or ordinary about it.

Alex Rodriguez is hurting and there is no longer any sense in trying to hide it.

Admittedly, he hasn't missed any time because of the injury -- he has played in 66 of the Yankees 70 games -- and the way he played Sunday night you would never suspect anything was wrong with him. A-Rod had three hits, scored three runs and hit a double off the ivy in left that drove in the final run of the game in the ninth inning.

His numbers, outwardly, seem productive -- .289 batting average, 13 HRs, 43 RBIs and a .506 slugging percentage.

But the home runs, of which Rodriguez has 626, come less frequently this year than any since 1997, when he was a 21-year-old Seattle Mariner and finished the season with 23, the lowest total of his career over a full season. Most strikingly, Rodriguez hit just .217 against lefties last year with a .314 on-base percentage and .441 slugging percentage. This year, the average versus lefties is better -- .279 -- but his slugging percentage is down to .368 and only one of his home runs has come against a lefty.

Whether this is a result of a lingering shoulder problem is unknown, but neither Rodriguez nor hitting coach Kevin Long has been able to provide an explanation for A-Rod's struggles against lefties.

And when asked before Sunday's game if a left shoulder problem could affect a right-handed hitter's power, Long said it would likely affect the finish of his swing, the follow-through, where much of the power is generated.

So when Girardi downplays A-Rod's injury, he is merely behaving as a manager should, trying to disguise from opponents the fact that what should be his most feared hitter is in fact at less than 100 percent effectiveness.

And when A-Rod refuses to confirm -- or more importantly, deny -- that there is anything wrong with his shoulder, he is merely engaging in the admirable practice of an athlete refusing to use an injury as an excuse.

But now, the horse has left the barn. Alex Rodriguez is hurting. What remains to be seen is how much it will hurt the Yankees.