Rodriguez back to where he was in 2013

* Alex Rodriguez is back in a New York Yankees and made his first road trip of the spring to Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. One scout said Rodriguez was back to where he was in 2013 .... before his suspension for use of performance enhancing drugs. ....  

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By Bob Elliott

DUNEDIN, Fla. _ He didn’t hobble to first base like Orlando Cepeda with the 1973 Boston Red Sox.

And he didn’t look in as much pain as Bo Jackson when he ran the bases for the 1994 California Angels.

Maybe he resembled Albert Belle with the 2000 Baltimore Orioles.

Rodriguez, 39, drove a 93-MPH fastball from Daniel Norris off the base of the right field fence in the fourth inning at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium Saturday afternoon. He stopped at first and gave Justin Smoak a playful pat on the shoulder.

“Any time I can put the ball in play to the big part of the field or in the gap is a good at bat,” Rodriguez told reporters. “I’m moving as good as you’re going to see me move. The days of speed are behind me.”

Rodriguez, suspended all of last season for performance enhancing drugs, was self-deprecating as if he had been told it’s what people want to hear.

Playing third an inning later he fielded a Devon Travis grounder with Josh Thole on first and Ryan Goins on second. Rather than throwing to first he was unable to tag a sliding Goins.

“That was another example of my foot speed -- or my flat-food speed,” said Rodriguez, who maintains he still wants to win the third base job from Chase Headley, rather than being the DH.

“There are a lot of slow third baseman in the game,” said Rodriguez. “I’m not mentioning any names because they are my buddies. Playing third is about quickness -- not foot speed.

“My job is to become as quick as I possibly can.”

He struck out swinging against Norris in the second, hit his singled off the wall in the fourth and flew out to right in the sixth.

Rodriguez is now hitting .375 (6-for-16) with a double, a homer, two RBIs, three walks and three strikeouts in his first seven games of the spring.

“He’s fine,” said an American League scout. “He has slider bat speed, or slow bat speed, whatever you call it, but that’s where he was in 2012-13 before the suspension. He’s back to where he was.

“I’m not a fan, but you have to give him credit for getting back to this point after missing all that time.”

Wearing a green Miami Hurricanes golf shirt with the university’s logo and the word Business over his heart, Rodriguez spoke about how happy he was to climb onto the bus to make the 20-mile trip to Dunedin and put on the grey road pants (“they were a little tight”) for the first time this spring.

Sure, with the Yankees playing split squad games against the Detroit Tigers at Legends Field in Tampa as well as the Jays, he enjoyed the trek across the Courtney Campbell Causeway.

Manager Joe Girardi came to Dunedin with his regular outfield of Brett Gardner, who threw out Russell Martin at the plate by about 20 feet, centre fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and right fielder Carlos Beltran, looking like Raul Mondesi at the end of his career, on one ball.

Ex-Jay Esmil Rogers, who was once asked if the statue outside the Rogers Centre was built in his memory, started for the Yankees and pitched three scoreless innings.

Stratford’s Robbie Thomson, the New York bench coach, managed the Yankees regular infield of first baseman Mark Teixeira, second baseman Stephen Drew, shortstop Didi Gregorius and Headley to a 4-1 win over the Tigers.

Jays management was probably happy Rodreiguez made the trip as the game drew 5,511, the season’s first sellout.

After Rodriguez left the game he signed autographs dozens of fans down the left field line, just as he had before the game. He said how appreciated he has felt from fans and been welcomed back from fans whether it be at a Mall, a Tampa Starbucks or the field.

He received the loudest reaction of any player introduced, with more boos than cheers (“it was mild.”)

In one at-bat fans chanted the Yankee Stadium “De-rek-Je-ter!” chant “I liked that,” said Rodriguez. “I’m in the box, I hear that and I’m thinking ‘hey where is my buddy right now?’

“Probably on a beach.”