- Wallace Matthews, ESPNNewYork.com
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Rodriguez returned to the club on Thursday after six weeks on the disabled list following knee surgery, but he has not been activated yet and will not play Thursday or Friday against the Minnesota Twins. In fact, there is no guarantee he will play in any of the four games in Minneapolis.
A-Rod said he was "trying to be optimistic" about playing this weekend, and manager Joe Girardi said the earliest Rodriguez could return to the lineup was Saturday.
After having played in four minor league rehab games -- two as a designated hitter with the Yankees' Class A Tampa affiliate and two at third base with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre -- A-Rod took early batting practice, fielded some grounders, ran the bases and took part in some running drills in the outfield at Target Field Thursday afternoon.
"I had a really good day today," he said. "It was just good to be around the guys and be around the coaching staff. I feel, for the most part, this was the most work and most comfortable I've been."
But he acknowledged he is still not ready to return to the lineup after having had surgery on July 11 to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee.
"The one thing that I'm lacking the most is first-step quickness and defense, and opening up my gait and really trying to make good turns going home to second or first to third," he said. "Today we did a little bit of that, and tomorrow we'll have another session."
Girardi said he was pleasantly surprised by what he saw of Rodriguez Thursday, after his third baseman said he felt "tentative" after Tuesday night's game in Scranton and getting independent reports that A-Rod's movement still appeared restricted.
"I just don't think he's moving quite as free as he was before he got hurt," Girardi said. "But it's a lot better than the report we got on Tuesday, so to me, he's closer. We've just got to make sure he's right."
Girardi said he might work Rodriguez back into the lineup as the DH before putting him out at third base.
"We'll take it slow," Girardi said. "He's been out almost six weeks. We could DH him a day, play him in the field, DH him a day. It's just constant communication and if he needs a day off, you give him a day off."
At the time of his injury, Rodriguez was hitting .295 with 13 home runs and 52 RBIs. With just 40 games remaining in the season, it is likely he is headed to his first sub-30 home run, sub-100 RBI season since 1997, when he was a 21-year-old Seattle Mariner.
Still, A-Rod said he expects to be "the productive hitter that I've always been in the middle of the lineup and really give us a shot in the arm with driving in big runs and hitting home runs. I think that's the reason we chose to have the operation. Although I was swinging the bat well and producing and getting hits, my value is to do a lot more than just getting base hits."
Rodriguez said the pain in his knee in the three weeks before he elected to have the surgery was the reason why his power numbers were down this year. He says he is now pain-free and ready to resume his role as a power hitter.
"It was a strange thing because I was hitting for a high average and making good contact with the baseball and driving in runs, but I just wasn't driving the ball out of the park, and that's something I really haven't been used to," he said. "Every swing hurt a lot before I went on the DL. Now I'm able to lean back on my swing. In order to hit for power, you always have to lean back, and that's the feeling I feel like I'm getting back to."
In Rodriguez's absence, Curtis Granderson, with 34 home runs and 95 RBIs, and Mark Teixeira, with 32 home runs and 89 RBIs, have asserted themselves as the most feared power bats in the Yankees lineup, and Robinson Cano, who has batted cleanup against left-handed starters, has heated up recently, his average up to .306 with 21 homers and 86 RBIs.
Still, Girardi has maintained that Rodriguez would return to the cleanup spot upon his return. A-Rod said it didn't matter where he hit as long as he was back in the lineup.
"If you've been watching the last month, we have probably seven or eight guys in this lineup right now that can hit fourth," he said. "Wherever the manager puts me, that's where I'm playing. I know what I can do to help the team win. Part of the reason that we had this surgery is because it's important for me to come back and hit home runs, drive in runs and get big hits. It's not to slap the ball all over the place. That's just not my game."
Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com.
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