Notes: Talks don't bother teammates

Notes: Talks don't bother teammates

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Yankees were willing to make an exception to their policy against negotiating in-season, but the focus of the flurry, Alex Rodriguez, would rather focus on life between the lines for now.

"I think it would be selfish on my part to talk about my contract status when our team desperately needs wins," Rodriguez told reporters after batting practice on Thursday night. "My goal is to win as many games as we can, focus on my teammates and really play at a real high level in the second half."

It's hard to imagine that A-Rod's game could get too much better during the second half. He had already compiled a Major League-leading 30 homers and 86 RBIs heading into Thursday's game against the Rays, and he stood five home runs shy of the 500-home run milestone after a fourth-inning blast.

Rodriguez's contract gives him a free-agency option 10 days after the 2007 World Series concludes. The option would mean that A-Rod would forfeit the final three years and approximately $81 million left in his contract.

It's a small time frame with which to work, but Rodriguez said absolutely that he would not negotiate before the end of the season, even though it's clear that the front office will soon buzzing with hopes of an extension.

"That sort of thing, I leave to the people upstairs," Rodriguez said. "My only concern is to play baseball and play at a high level."

While potential talks with Rodriguez could have stirred the pot during a time the team needs to pull together most, no other Yankees with contracts up this year felt slighted.

"It's a business," said closer Mariano Rivera of the front office's exception for A-Rod. "[The Yankees] try to do whatever they have to do to make the team better. Why should it bother me?

"That's not any of my business. My business is, I have a job, and we'll see what happens."

Catcher Jorge Posada said he didn't remember Yankees general manager Brian Cashman saying that there would be no in-season talks but that even if Cashman had made an exception, it would not make a difference. There's too much going on during the season, Posada said, to have to worry about contracts.

"There's no sense for me to negotiate something now when I can wait and see what happens," Posada said. "I want to wait.

"I've never experienced free agency; I'm looking forward to it. It's the first time ever, and probably the only time ever. I want to see what it's all about."

Yankees manager Joe Torre, whose contract also is up at the end of the season, said that the decision to attempt to secure Rodriguez would be a difficult one. Torre was relieved that it wasn't one he'd have to make.

"I'm glad Alex is here now, and whatever happens, happens," Torre said before declining to discuss the matter in further detail.

Here's the question: Friday's starter, Roger Clemens, recorded his 350th career win on July 2, becoming just the eighth pitcher to reach the landmark number. Before Clemens, who was the last player to do so?

Comeback trail: Jeff Karstens threw five innings for Class A Staten Island during a game on Thursday afternoon. The right-hander, who suffered a fractured right fibula on April 28 after he was struck by a line drive, scattered four hits and allowed one earned run against Auburn, striking out eight and walking none.

Righty Phil Hughes will throw on Friday night at Double-A Trenton. Torre was optimistic that the youngster would return strong from his strained left hamstring and sprained left ankle, but he said that he hadn't yet heard of any timetable on when the 21-year-old would return.

Now's the time: There has been talk that the struggling Yankees have their best chance at making progress during the upcoming stretch that kicked off Thursday night in St. Petersburg. Over the next month, the Yankees will face the Rays (34-53), Blue Jays (43-44) and Royals (38-50) seven times each, and the White Sox (39-47) and Orioles (38-49) three times each.

The scheduling has the Yankees facing all sub-.500 teams during the next 27 games, but Torre said that doesn't necessarily mean it will be a cakewalk.

"To me, there's nothing easy," Torre said. "The biggest culprit has been the road, rather than who we play. We're just going to have to start playing on the road like we do at home. We certainly are aware of it. I don't know the reason for it, but that has to change if we're going to play consistently."

Heading into Thursday, New York was 26-18 at home and 16-25 on the road.

And the answer is: When The Rocket picked up win No. 350, it was the first time in nearly 44 years that a pitcher had recorded that many. Warren Spahn won his 350th on Sept. 29, 1963, for the Milwaukee Braves. Torre was the catcher in that game.

Up next: The Yankees will resume their four-game series with the Rays on Friday night at 7:10 ET. Clemens (2-3, 3.63 ERA) will face off against southpaw Scott Kazmir (5-6, 4.41).

Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.