Alex Rodriguez had the first home run of spring training by a Yankee regular. Well, Suzyn, I guess you can't predict... blah blah diddy blah. You know, it's just Alex being Alex.
It's already an interesting spring training, and it's not really even gotten rolling yet. Yankees prospects have shone at the plate, and an unfortunate/totally predictable injury to Chris Capuano has opened the door for a pitching prospect to (hopefully) break camp as a starter. And A-Rod, so far, looks good at the plate. Yes, it's just an 88 mph fastball in the sixth inning of spring training, but at least it came off a guy who hopes to be a part of the Red Sox bullpen for the third year in a row.
I'm a bright side of life kind of guy, so let's get carried away with hope (be warned that even my hope comes with a pretty big black cloud when it comes to A-Rod).
Last season, Derek Jeter played in 145 games, which I think is too many to hope for out of our former third baseman's degenerative hips. But I'm hoping we get 120-130, so close. If his swing is working, I'm willing to bet that 40-year-old A-Rod is a better hitter than 35-year-old Mark Teixeira. A-Rod's got to clobber at least 20 88-mph fastballs over the course of 120 games. 20 home runs would be a pretty great season in the history of 40-year-old ball players, and it would be a big boost for a team everyone expects to struggle to put together runs.
Right now, A-Rod's numbers read like a hot streak: five hits and two walks in 13 plate appearances with a double and a home run. I'm most encouraged by the early walks, because it is A-Rod's plate discipline that I was always most worried about. He was always a selective hitter, but he was never the most selective player on the team (that role always went to a Giambi, or an Abreu, or a Swisher). The fact that he's willing to be patient and is able to be patient speaks volumes.
When Bernie Williams' clock was winding down, he became less and less selective because he found himself unable to catch up to the fastball. He started to cheat, and often wound up looking foolish on off speed pitches. Maybe that's a fate that still awaits A-Rod, and we aren't seeing it yet in spring training because pitchers haven't gotten their breaking stuff into shape for the season yet.
There has been a lot of attention given to rising fastball velocity across the big leagues in the last few years, as more and more specialized relievers come into the late innings. And maybe that means we'll see a lot more of the 2012 playoff situation, where A-Rod gets pinch hit for rather than face a fireballing righty. That's fine with me.
But in the next week, I'm curious to see how A-Rod handles the soft stuff that comes his way. When he's able to hold back and crush a middling curve or a change-up that catches too much of the plate, then I'll get excited.