Most of Joe Girardi’s pre-game press conferences during nine postseason games were focused on Alex Rodriguez. The focus was elevated even more once Girardi decided to pinch hit for Rodriguez and ultimately bench him for three games.
Six days after the Yankees were swept out of the ALCS against the Tigers, Rodriguez remained the focal point of Girardi’s postmortem press conference.
During a roughly 27-minute session with reporters Wednesday morning, Girardi stated he expects Rodriguez to be the everyday third baseman when spring training begins.
“I expect Alex to be our everyday third baseman, I do,” Girardi said. “What’s he going to have to show me? That’s he’s healthy and ready to go, that’s the bottom line, that he has no concerns and we have no concerns about putting him out there every day.”
Girardi reiterated that the decisions to pinch hit him in Games 3 and 4 against Baltimore and bench him in three other postseason games were based on sub-par numbers against right-handed pitching
“I make decisions based on a season, a month, what I’ve seen and for me to go back and say I would have changed anything, these weren’t just let me go off the top of my head and make a decision,” Girardi said. “These are things that we evaluated a lot before we made our decision. I don’t look back and second guess myself, no I don’t.”
The numbers Girardi saw from Rodriguez against right-handed pitchers were a .256 batting average against right-handers over the course of 317 at-bats. That was a steep decline from the .276 mark in 2011 when he missed most of the second half with knee surgery. It also was a steep decline from the .290 average he had in 379 at-bats two years ago when Rodriguez appeared in 137 games.
“That’s going to be talked about I’m sure a lot over the next two months, but as we talk about as a player you always have a chance to rewrite things,” Girardi said. “They were down on Derek Jeter, I guess it would have been last year, the first three months they were concerned about what was going on and his productivity. We saw what he did the second half and then what he did this year. So you always have a chance as a player to rewrite things and make an adjustment.”
Rodriguez has hit 30 home runs 14 times in his career. Over the last two seasons while playing 99 and 122 games respectively, he has 34 home runs and 73 extra-base hits combined. Those are numbers far diminished from his peak years of 2005-2009 with the Yankees but Girardi also believes that if mostly healthy, his highest-paid position player can produce something decent even if it is not necessarily 30 or 40 home runs again.
“I think there were some comments that maybe Alex was not an MVP candidate. He hasn’t been for the last couple of years,” Girardi said. “But as I said, you’ve seen players that made adjustments and went back to being extremely productive. There was talk about Derek, there was talk about Ichiro that he wasn’t the same player and look how good he was for us. I think players have an opportunity and when you’ve been a great player you’re obviously a pretty smart player and sometimes you do have to make a tweak here or a tweak there or maybe you got away from what you were doing accidentally and you go back and say, ‘OK, this is the reason that this was happening or maybe that was happening.’
“So can Alex be a very good player again? Absolutely. I don’t have any question in my mind because I think that the desire is there, as far as being a heads-up player, I think that’s there. But as far as being a 45, 50 home run guy, we don’t see that much in baseball at all.”
Jeter and Ichiro have been able to rewrite things to varying degrees and that is what Girardi is banking on when he pencils Rodriguez into the lineup again.
Jeter batted .270 in 2010 and was hitting .260 when he came off the DL in July 2011, but wound up hitting .297 last season and .316 in 2012. Ichiro batted .272 in 2011 for Seattle and was hitting .261 at the time of his trade this season but wound up batting .322 in 67 games for the Yankees.
One thing that was a possibility is that Rodriguez had not fully recovered from breaking his hand July 24 in Seattle. But that was not a Girardi’s belief.
“I believe he was healthy but if you look he had some struggles during the course of the season as well,” Girardi said. “If you look at his numbers over the course of the whole season against right-handers and you talk about as players sometimes you have to make minor adjustments and you have to say, ‘OK, let’s evaluate maybe why I wasn’t successful off right-handers.’ And the next year could be completely opposite and you look at that as well. As far as health, I think he was healthy.”
Girardi expects Rivera to return
Girardi never asked Mariano Rivera about his plans for next season and that was before the closer tore his ACL in May. He never asked because he knew questions about Rivera would come most days, if not every day, during spring training.
A day after getting hurt, an emotional Rivera said he planned on coming back and being a first-hand witness to some of the rehab process, Girardi believes that probably would happen.
“I haven’t seen Mo since the season ended,” Girardi said. “From watching how he rehabbed and everything he was going through, he picked up a baseball sooner than he was supposed to. That would tell me that Mo probably wants to play. But in saying that, it’s a decision that I think he’ll sit down with his family, evaluate where he is maybe a little bit later in this process and how he feels and how his arm feels and to feel like he can compete at the same level that he’s always competed at. But I don’t think you push a rehab like he pushed it unless you have some interest in possibly coming back.”
Rivera’s return impacts Rafael Soriano, who has an opt-out clause in the three-year contract he signed in January 2011. Soriano will likely use it, especially since his agent is Scott Boras, and he has good leverage in negotiations after converting 42 of 46 save opportunities in Rivera’s absence.
Girardi not concerned about Sabathia
At some point CC Sabathia will visit with noted orthopedist Dr. James Andrews in Florida. Many pitchers who make that trip wind up with major surgery, but Girardi is not expecting that to be the case with his ace left-hander.
“Things have not taken place. Obviously we know that CC had a little bit of a groin problem, a little bit of an elbow problem, during the course of the season. He pitched very well for us down the stretch which made me feel good about what’s going on. At times people need to be evaluated to make sure that everything is OK.”
Even with two brief DL stints over the summer, Sabathia wound pitching 200 innings and winning 15 games for the sixth straight season. He finished up the regular season by allowing four runs over his final 24 innings.
That was followed by Sabathia allowing three runs in 17 2/3 innings in the ALDS against Baltimore, including a four-hitter in the clincher. Sabathia threw 241 pitches in those starts and though he is among a handful of pitchers that get stronger deeper into games, it is possible that throwing that many pitches might have impacted Game 4 in Detroit when he allowed five earned runs and 11 hits in 3 2/3 innings.
“You’re always concerned that maybe it’s more than what you think about,” Girardi said. “That’s always your biggest concern. You think about both of the games he pitched against Baltimore that was pretty good. The start before that in September was pretty good. So that makes me feel like it’s something that we’re going to get through and have in spring training.”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.