Commentary

A-Rod's numbers, early exit troubling

Slugger invokes name of hip surgeon after leaving game early with right groin 'cramp'

Updated: June 11, 2010, 8:02 PM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

BALTIMORE -- On this date a year ago, Alex Rodriguez was hitting .234 with eight home runs, 25 RBIs, an on-base percentage of .393 and a slugging percentage of .495. He had struck out 17 times, walked 26 times and scored 16 runs.

So far this year, he is hitting .290. The home run total is the same, the RBI total is 43, the OBP is .361, the SLG .482. He has whiffed 39 times, walked 25 times and scored 34 runs.

With the exception of the batting average, pretty close, right?

Wrong. Last year, of course, he was coming off preseason hip surgery and had played in just 31 of his team's 59 games, coming to bat just 108 times.

This year, supposedly healthy, he has played in all but two of his team's 60 games, coming to the plate 224 times.

It doesn't take a mathematician to figure out that the numbers are down and the production is off. But it may take a surgeon to figure out why.

All season long, Rodriguez and Yankees manager Joe Girardi have swatted away questions regarding A-Rod's obvious power shortage this season with a lot of seam-head talk about run production and the lack of importance of A-Rod's hallmark stat, the home run.

But the truth is, hitting home runs is why Alex Rodriguez is here in the first place. It is why the Texas Rangers saw fit to give him a 10-year, $252 million contract in 2001, and why the Yankees chose to extend him for another seven years -- at a salary bump to $275 million, no less -- following his 2007 MVP season.

Nobody pays $33 million a year for a moderately powered .290 hitter, not even the Yankees, and yet that is what Alex Rodriguez has become this year.

The $275 million question is why?

We may have begun to get at the answer in listening to A-Rod's contradictory explanation of exactly why he left Thursday night's Yankees-Orioles game, a rare 4-3 win for Baltimore, after the first inning.

[+] EnlargeAlex Rodriguez
AP Photo/Gail BurtonA-Rod (pictured Wednesday) never even swings a bat Thursday -- leaving his status up in the air.
First, he said he felt some "cramping" in his right groin, in the same area that caused him to leave Sunday's game against the Blue Jays in the ninth inning.

He said there was no pain. He said the area usually responded to stretching and had never caused him a problem before.

He strongly implied that whatever was going on in his groin had nothing to do with the surgically repaired right hip that caused him to miss the first 28 games of the 2009 season, the hip we were told would need additional surgery after the season.

The surgery that was never done after Dr. Marc Philippon, the surgeon who performed the operation, gave him a clean bill of health in spring training.

"The hip is fine," A-Rod said.

Then he said he would consult not only with Yankees team physician Chris Ahmad, but with none other than Dr. Philippon.

That's when things got interesting.

Why would you go to Philippon, he was asked, if the hip is fine?

(Then again, why would you go to HGH guru Anthony Galea for "anti-inflammatories" readily available to the team physician? We're still waiting for an answer to that one).

At that point, whatever veneer A-Rod thought he had carefully crafted began to peel off.

"That's kind of a crazy question," he said. "It's the right hip, the right hip is right next to the ... I mean wouldn't you? OK, I mean, there's not a controversy here. Don't look for something that's not there."

Easy, big fella. Nobody implied there was a controversy. Nobody said there was or wasn't a connection between the (formerly) injured hip and the (currently) injured groin. Nobody brought up the P word, as in Philippon.

Nobody but you.

It almost makes you wonder if Rodriguez slipped up in mentioning Philippon, but since he mentioned him not once, not twice but three times, it also makes you wonder if maybe he wanted someone to pick up on the possibility that the hip was, in fact, still a problem for him.

The Yankees did not help sort out the mystery, either, holding back on making an announcement as to the cause of A-Rod's removal from the game until after it was all over, nearly three hours later. For an organization that generally operates with the utmost professionalism, it was a surprising lapse, to say the least.

Girardi didn't help clear things up all that much either, when he said "we" pulled A-Rod after the Jones single, and when he acknowledged that he would have liked to have known earlier that his cleanup hitter would not be able to go, at which point he might have come up with a more suitable No. 4 batter than Ramiro Pena.

It made you wonder if in fact Rodriguez has been hiding an injury all along, from his manager and his teammates, an injury that became readily apparent to all the trained eyes in the Yankees' dugout the moment Jones' ball -- "a routine play" under normal conditions, A-Rod had called it -- squirted past him.

And it made you wonder if that was the reason for the anemic home run total and the curious lack of pop in his bat this season, a season in which he is supposedly healthy in both body and mind, especially having finally won himself a World Series ring.

"You definitely miss him in the lineup," said A.J. Burnett, who took the loss to the Orioles with the Yankees' Triple-A lineup behind him. "You have faith in all the guys, but it's definitely a different lineup without him."

Burnett was talking about Thursday night, but now that you think about it, he may well have been talking about the entire season.

Something hasn't been quite right with Alex Rodriguez all year long. Someday soon, we might actually get to find out why.

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

More from ESPNNewYork.com »

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.
Follow Wallace on Twitter »  Chat archive »

EDITORS' PICKS

ALSO SEE