A-Rod homers in first rehab game

A-Rod homers in first rehab game

A-Rod homers in first rehab game
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Alex Rodriguez began his Minor League rehabilitation assignment Friday with an exclamation point, crushing a fastball from Dunedin Blue Jays left-hander Willie Collazo over the trees past the left-center-field wall at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.

"Just to be able to drive the ball out of the park, whether it's [Class] A, Double-A, Triple-A, the fact that I could drive the ball, hopefully it's a sign of good things to come," said Rodriguez, who is batting .295 with 13 home runs and 52 RBIs in 80 games for the Yankees this season.

"I wasn't driving the ball like I was used to, so for me, the home run meant a little more than just a home run because the last several weeks I was playing, I wasn't able to drive the ball. My team expects me to hit the ball out of the park and hit with a lot more production and that's what I expect out of myself, too. So hopefully I can come back and hit the ground running and help my team win the division."

Playing with the Tampa Yankees in a Florida State League contest against the Dunedin Blue Jays, Rodriguez finished the night 2-for-3 with an RBI double and said home run.

A three-time American League MVP, Rodriguez is coming back from surgery on July 11 to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee that had sapped his power, enduring a career-long homerless streak of 85 at-bats following the injury on June 19 at Wrigley Field.

A-Rod began his night quite well, and despite striking out in his last plate appearance, he came away with plenty of optimism.

"It's just a matter of ramping it up, and today was a good start," Rodriguez said. "I think with my knee obviously, I had a tear in my knee so my rotation wasn't as explosive. It felt good to get back out there in a game and put the uniform on again. The health of the knee is good now and it's all about ramping it up now."

After hearing more boos than cheers when he was introduced as the designated hitter for the Yankees' Class A Advanced affiliate, Rodriguez, 36, let four pitches reach the Dunedin catcher before he calmly blasted the pitch from Collazo into the other practice fields at the Blue Jays' Spring Training home for a solo homer. Upon touching home plate, Rodriguez, sporting his No. 13 jersey, received a standing ovation from the crowd of 573 in attendance, including fans who offered a voice of discontent prior to his plate appearance.

Collazo, 31, is on rehabilitation assignment from the Las Vegas 51s, a Triple-A affiliate of the Blue Jays. After being drafted in the 10th round of the 2001 First-Year Player Draft by the Braves, the left-hander spent time with the Angels and Mets before making his Major League debut with the Mets in 2007.

Rodriguez followed the home run with a line-drive double to right field that nearly took the glove off Dunedin first baseman Jon Talley. After swinging at two breaking balls and fouling one off down the first-base line, A-Rod let a pitch go by for a ball before slicing a curveball from Collazo just past Talley's ear to score Abe Amonte from first.

Rodriguez took his time getting to second base, though, as an apparent precautionary measure for his surgically repaired right knee.

"I'm just making sure we take one step at a time," Rodriguez said. "We have five or six days to work with here, and my idea is always to ramp it up and hopefully to keep increasing the intensity."

Rodriguez faced lefty Matt Wright, 24, in his third at-bat and became Wright's 81st strikeout victim this season on a 90-mph fastball that was on the inside portion of the zone. Rodriguez looked at a ball to start the count, let a pitch go by for a strike and whiffed at a 90-mph fastball for the second strike before looking at the last pitch.

After beginning his day taking grounders at third base, Rodriguez looked sharp during batting practice prior to the game, taking 47 swings and working up a considerable sweat in the sweltering Florida heat.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that Rodriguez is expected to play third base for Tampa on Saturday in a 6 p.m. ET game, also in Dunedin.

"We don't want to state anything for the record, but we hope so," Rodriguez said. "The plan is to play in the field tomorrow and in an intrasquad on Sunday morning and we'll go from there."

The Yankees are expecting Rodriguez to rejoin them on their upcoming road trip, but Girardi said that he was not sure if Rodriguez would be with the club for a three-game series against the Royals that begins Monday. He expects Rodriguez to be available by Thursday, when the team opens a four-game series with the Twins at Target Field.

The Yankees have won 20 out of 30 games in Rodriguez's absence entering play on Friday.

"The team's playing so well and I want to just get back there and help," Rodriguez said. "I'm not comfortable being here. You get to the point you're miserable and you just want to be back with your teammates. I miss my friends. These guys are my brothers. I couldn't be more proud of the way they're playing."

Chris Girandola is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.