Pudge reflects on struggles

Pudge reflects on struggles

ANAHEIM -- On Ivan Rodriguez's first day in Yankees pinstripes, the catcher called it "a dream" to suit up and spoke optimistically about joining a postseason journey in the Bronx.

It has not quite worked out that way, but Rodriguez said that his less-than-optimal performance has not soured his time as a Yankee.

But it has been different for Rodriguez, a 14-time All-Star and 13-time Gold Glove Award winner having to share time behind the plate with understudy Jose Molina. He looks toward the coming offseason optimistically, but ultimately unsure about his future.

"My whole career, I've been playing every day," Rodriguez said. "Being in this role, sometimes it's kind of hard, because I know I can play. I know I can do my job as an everyday catcher. That's something that you cannot control, that's just the way it is. When they give you an opportunity to be behind the plate, you have to do the best."

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that he believed effort has not been the issue with Rodriguez. Acquired on July 30 from the Tigers for right-handed reliever Kyle Farnsworth, Rodriguez entered Monday's game batting .224 with two home runs and three RBIs in 26 games.

"I think he's a better hitter than what he showed," Girardi said. "He was hitting [.295] before he got here -- that's not an accident. It's not like it was 100 at-bats either. He had a substantial amount of at-bats. He's been better the last two weeks."

In Rodriguez's last six games, he has indeed found a better run of luck, stroking seven hits in 21 at-bats after beginning his Yankees career batting .181 (10-for-55). But it likely will not be enough to help spur on the Bombers, who entered play on Monday trailing by 8 1/2 games in the American League Wild Card race.

One of the main reasons for Rodriguez's slow start, it is believed, was the added workload placed upon him to adapt to the Yankees' pitching staff.

"I know me personally that I can do more, but at the same time I'm just doing the work and trying to get used to learning the pitching staff so the pitchers feel comfortable with me," Rodriguez said.

"I'm getting my hits here and there, and I've been swinging the bat very well. I've hit the ball nice, but right at people. You cannot control the ball after it hits the bat. The best thing is that I'm healthy and feeling great, no pain. I just play hard every day."

Having never been traded in midseason before, Rodriguez said he knew that it would be an undertaking to learn on the fly what most catchers use much of the seven weeks of Spring Training to accomplish, but he went into the task with an open attitude.

"It's a challenge. It's not easy," Rodriguez said. "To learn a pitching staff and go from one team to another takes quite a while. The only thing you have to do is keep working with them, communicate with them, and things are going to be much better."

Compounding the issue is the fact that Rodriguez has had to spend time on the bench while Molina catches both Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte regularly.

Upon Rodriguez's acquisition, Mussina requested that he remain with Molina; Pettitte worked with Rodriguez in his Yankees debut, but after Pettitte allowed nine runs in 5 1/3 innings against the Angels on July 30, he returned to working with Molina.

Tony Pena, the Yankees' catching coach, knew that trying to absorb so much new information in a relatively brief amount of time would challenge Rodriguez.

"One of the things is that he had to spend his time just learning the pitching staff," Pena said. "It's not easy for anybody to step in and do that in the middle of the season. That was one of our concerns."

But Rodriguez also pressed offensively, the Yankees believe. New York's most indispensable player of the 2007 season was arguably switch-hitting catcher Jorge Posada, and without his reliable bat in the heart of the order, the club suffered.

Rodriguez knew that his resume boasted seasons that could approach those levels, but until recently, there had been few signs of such results.

"There's no question," Pena said. "He wanted to show everybody he was capable of doing the job. But you have to know there are going to be times that you hit the ball right on the screws and get nothing for it. You just keep swinging."

A free agent after this season, Rodriguez has said that he would like to return to the Yankees if they are interested in having him. Though his time has not exactly gone the way some anticipated, Rodriguez said that the season has not affected his stance.

"No, no, no," Rodriguez said. "This is a great place to be. To be honest with you, New York is a very nice city to play baseball. I love the city and I would love to stay. The good thing is that I played hard every day, I'm healthy, and I'm doing the best that I can. I would love to be back."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.