NEW YORK -- The stroke was vintage A-Rod, short, quick and violent, and the result familiar, a baseball screaming like a rocket on a line into the gap in left.
But the legs looked as if they belonged to someone else, someone older, slower and maybe even in pain.
After four days on the sideline with what is being officially called a strained hip flexor, Alex Rodriguez returned to the Yankees lineup Wednesday night as the designated hitter. On his last at-bat of a 6-3 loss, he lashed an RBI double with two-out in the ninth off Phillies closer Brad Lidge.
Rodriguez didn't exactly bust it out of the batter's box, though, and between first and second it appeared as if the basepaths of the Yankee Stadium infield had been replaced by quicksand. Only a last-second, head-first dive into second allowed Rodriguez to reach safely a base he normally would be standing at.
"Going first to second, I didn't think he ran full speed," Joe Girardi said, not with the irritation of a manager who thinks a player is dogging it but with the concern of one who fears his player might be hurting. "Obviously there's no reason for him to push it running the bases there. We were a long ways behind. But I'll talk to him to find out what caused him to run like that. If he's just being cautious, I'm OK with that. If there's pain, that's another issue we have to deal with."
Rodriguez confirmed Girardi's suspicion. After being idle since he removed himself from a game in Baltimore after one inning Thursday, he was just playing it safe.
"In a four-run game, I didn't see the need to go all out," Rodriguez said. "I didn't think getting a stand-up double at that point was all that crucial."
When the next batter, Robinson Cano, singled to right, A-Rod loped into third rather than trying to score a run that would have only cut the Phillies' lead to 6-4.
"To turn third base like a wild man there, I don't think would have done anyone any good," Rodriguez said. "We're just trying to be smart about this."
The decision to use A-Rod only as a DH and not a third baseman was made by Girardi after Rodriguez reported difficulty moving laterally, specifically to his left, during infield drills Tuesday afternoon. He took a couple of grounders before Wednesday's game but did not have to move far to get them. He refused to commit to a return to the field for Thursday night's rubber game against the Phillies.
"I don't want to anticipate anything," said Rodriguez, who was 0-for-2 with a walk against Jamie Moyer earlier in the game. "I'm gonna keep communicating with the manager, taking my groundballs, keep ramping it up a little bit each day, working a little more intensely on going side to side, and hopefully I'll be back in there soon."
POSADA UPDATE: Jorge Posada, who caught a full game for the first time since returning from the disabled list after a hairline fracture of his right foot, is unlikely to catch again Thursday. "Probably gonna need a day," said Posada, who homered Wednesday, his third in the past four games. "I'm not gonna lie to you guys; it gets tender late in the game. Probably it's tired from not having caught for so long. So I'm gonna rest it and hope that it keeps getting better. I don't want to be just a part-time player. I want to go out there and be successful."