The reason: A half-inch of athletic tape and a half-inch of separation on a bat handle.
Hitting coach Kevin Long suggested to Rodriguez that he separate his hands slightly when gripping the bat -- sort of like ballplayers did in the early 20th century, though not as drastic -- in order to keep A-Rod's top hand from constantly banging up against that ailing thumb, which had been causing him a great deal of pain lately.
Long figured a wad of rolled-up tape separating the hands would cause A-Rod's pain to subside, but he warned him it would diminish his power.
Then A-Rod took seven rounds of batting practice, hit four balls out, and came away feeling better than he has in a while.
"It's the best I've felt in over a month," said Rodriguez, who wasn't sure if it was encouraging enough to have him pinch-hit but sounded pretty sure about playing Saturday.
"I'm excited about it," he added. "I haven't been this excited in at least a month."
A-Rod hasn't played since last Friday and has only appeared in 10 games since the All-Star break -- first because of knee surgery that had him miss 38 games, then because of the thumb injury he suffered while fielding a grounder in his first game back.
Girardi said during Wednesday's series finale in Seattle that he was leaning toward A-Rod returning on Friday, but would have to see him get through batting practice before making a final determination. After A-Rod did soft tosses and tee work in the batting cages, though, Girardi had Eric Chavez playing third base and Jorge Posada serving as the designated hitter against righty Dustin McGowan.
Girardi's logic: "We just decided he's probably not going to play both of the games here [on Saturday and Sunday]," Girardi said. "So why don't we see how he feels [Saturday] after taking swings and taking a round of BP [on the field]?"
Girardi, speaking before A-Rod would come on the field to take BP live, was careful to note that A-Rod hadn't suffered any sort of setback and that it was actually an encouraging day for him. The Yankees' skipper expects to play him at third base on Saturday, and he may even play him on Sunday, too.
That remains to be seen, of course. And so does whether the adjustment pays off to the point A-Rod can be himself at the plate for the rest of the season. The Yankees are hopeful they can have a productive A-Rod by the time the postseason comes around -- but hope is really all they have right now.
"I try not to think about that, but it is a real possibility," Girardi said of not having a productive A-Rod when games matter most. "We don't know how he's going to respond when he gets in the games here and everything speeds up. It is a concern; his health is a concern. That's why we're being patient here."