Alex Rodriguez homers in return

Updated: September 17, 2011, 5:36 PM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

TORONTO -- It's thumbs-up for Alex Rodriguez, who returned to the New York Yankees' lineup for Saturday's game against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Rodriguez went 2-for-4 with a three-run homer in the Yankees' 7-6 win.

A-Rod did not bat in his customary cleanup spot in the batting order -- second baseman Robinson Cano hit fourth Saturday afternoon -- but said before the game that he is just happy to be back on the field after missing six games with lingering pain in his sprained left thumb.

"Wherever the manager puts me is fine," said Rodriguez, who batted fifth against Toronto's 21-year-old starter Henderson Alvarez, a pitcher neither he nor any of his Yankees teammates have ever faced.

As for not putting Rodriguez in the cleanup spot, manager Joe Girardi said: "He's just missed time. Really, he hasn't played much in the last two months, so I figured we'll just keep Robbie there for right now. And if Alex gets going, we can adjust our lineup as we see needed."

Rodriguez injured his thumb while attempting to make a backhand stop of a grounder Aug. 21 in Minnesota, his first game back after having missed more than six weeks following knee surgery over the All-Star break.

A-Rod aggravated the injury, diagnosed as a Grade 1 sprain of the collateral ligament, taking batting practice a few days later. He had appeared in just nine of the Yankees' last 24 games, batting .194 (7-for-36) with two home runs and four RBI over that span.

The pain of gripping the bat has kept him out of the lineup, but Rodriguez found what he thinks will be a solution to the problem on Friday, when at the suggestion of hitting coach Kevin Long he adopted a split-grip batting style, separating his hands with a narrow ridge of adhesive tape applied to his bat handle.

Rodriguez took extensive live batting practice with the device before Friday's game, taking approximately 40 swings and hitting four balls over the fence at the Rogers Centre, after which he declared himself ready to go on Saturday pending his overnight recovery.

"This is the best I've felt in more than a month," he said. "I'm excited for tomorrow."

Saturday morning, he came into the clubhouse feeling ready to play for the first time since Sept. 9. "Obviously, you never know what's going to happen when you take that many swings," Rodriguez said. "But I actually feel better today than I did yesterday and I'm ready to go."

After having an impressive spring that had some Yankees predicting an MVP-type year for Rodriguez, the 2011 season has been more of a lost weekend for the 36-year-old third baseman.

Injuries to his shoulder, knee and thumb have limited Rodriguez to 90 games, in which he has hit just 15 home runs and knocked in 56, all but ending his chance of putting up a 14th consecutive series of at least 30 home runs and 100 RBIs.

But Girardi continues to hold out hope that A-Rod can still be a productive hitter in the remaining 13 games of the regular season and into the postseason.

"There's still a lot of baseball left, in a sense, you hope," Girardi said. "It's been an injury season for him. We don't know what version of him we're going to get. We might get the version we had at the beginning of the season when he was healthy. If that version is in there, that's really good."

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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