When Alex Rodriguez got injured in spring training, one line of thinking was that it would be good for the clubhouse to have him (and his drama) gone for a while. But as A-Rod returns to the lineup tonight in Baltimore, he’ll be welcomed by a team that’s lost five straight and very much needs him. Obviously, adding a talented player like A-Rod — assuming he’s relatively healthy and focused — would be a boon to any lineup. But his return is good for the Yankees in other ways, too. After the jump, four reasons why.
1. A-Rod batting cleanup behind Mark Teixeira might wake up the struggling first-baseman. Not that lack of protection has been his problem, exactly, but it can’t hurt. This would be doubly good for the Yankees: A-Rod over Ramiro Pena is a big improvement, but Good Teixeira (.308 last season) over Bad Teixeria (.198 so far this season) might be just as big.
2. Speaking of Pena, assuming he stays on the roster instead of Angel Berroa, it moves him back to the bench, which is extremely thin right now, and where any slight upgrade makes a difference. (Would-be reserve Nick Swisher is a full-time starter these days, and if Jose Molina is out for any period of time, they’ll be down to a fourth-string catcher backing up Francisco Cervelli.) At the very least, Pena’s a pinch-running option if Brett Gardner is already in the game, can spell A-Rod if he needs days off early, and did come up with a couple of big hits after Cody Ransom got hurt.
3. A-Rod returning and actually playing baseball is the only way the steroid talk goes away. (Well, that and if a certain other superstar fails a drug test.) Even in the immediate aftermath of the Selena Roberts–David Epstein Sports Illustrated report, when the question of A-Rod’s lasting legacy came up, it became apparent his story was different from that of a player like, say, Rafael Palmeiro, who was at the end of his career when he failed a drug test. A-Rod has waited three months for his chance to play his way back into everyone’s good graces, and he gets that chance tonight.
4. A-Rod’s return gives the Yankees something of a fresh start — especially after a particularly bad week in which they were swept by Boston and Tampa, culminating in Mariano Rivera allowing back-to-back home runs for the first time in his career. Not that A-Rod’s absence is an excuse for the mediocre start, but they can use it as a reason to be optimistic about turning things around, and soon.