A-Rod blending in, gaining comfort

A-Rod blending in, gaining comfort

ANAHEIM -- The numbers Alex Rodriguez wields in the heart of the Yankees' lineup have not jumped off the page as demanding consideration in the discussion for the MVP race, but that is part of their appeal.

Rodriguez arrived after missing five weeks this season due to right hip surgery, relieved of the pressure he feels every season to justify his big contract and high profile. The Yankees knew he would be limited in some ways, and were happy to accept whatever he could offer.

It has been more than anticipated. With 27 home runs and 89 RBIs in 115 games, Rodriguez has found himself at the heart of a lineup that is headed for the postseason for his fifth time in six seasons with New York. The clinching this week gave Rodriguez reason to reflect on how far he'd come.

"Just shaking hands with the guys and giving a few hugs takes me back to where I was in February and March, Colorado and Tampa," Rodriguez said. "It just feels good to be part of it and contribute a little bit."

Rodriguez is expected to be in the Yankees' lineup on Friday at Yankee Stadium, as the Bombers welcome in the Red Sox for their final meeting of the regular season. The game will be televised on TBS, with Chip Caray (play-by-play), Buck Martinez (analyst) and Craig Sager (reporter) bringing the matchup to living rooms across the country.

The special case of Rodriguez, who had an impingement removed from his right hip labrum and a cyst drained by Dr. Marc Philippon on March 9, has prompted the Yankees to proceed carefully. Rodriguez was not in the starting lineup on Wednesday at Anaheim for prescribed rest, though he was available to pinch-hit.

"I think he's had a great season," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "You look at the numbers he's put up, and he missed five weeks and we've had to sit him down at times. I'm sure at times there's been fatigue because of what he's been through, but I think he's had an outstanding year. For Alex, it's been good baseball. Alex has been able to focus on what he loves to do."

While Rodriguez has estimated that there is an 80 percent chance he will need to go back to Philippon for a followup procedure after the Yankees' season is complete, Rodriguez has shown greater mobility defensively later in the year, an encouraging sign.

In the sixth inning on Tuesday, Rodriguez saved a run with a key diving play to his right, snaring a Vladimir Guerrero rocket down the third-base line at Angel Stadium and firing to first base to leave the bases loaded -- a key run as the Yankees completed a one-run victory and clinched their 14th playoff berth in 15 seasons.

"Philippon said that I was going to get better each and every month," Rodriguez said. "So far, so good, I think. I feel good and hopefully it continues."

With a magic number of five as they depart Anaheim on Wednesday, the Yankees have an opportunity to celebrate winning the division at home this weekend against their fiercest rivals, the Red Sox. Rodriguez said that reaching stage one of the playoff push was encouraging, but he and the Yankees have loftier goals in mind.

"It's always good to get in, but our goal is at the end of the line," Rodriguez said. "We have a long way to go here. We haven't gotten there yet."

Pitching matchup
NYY: RHP Joba Chamberlain (8-6, 4.72)
In a season in which so much attention has been paid to the number of innings that Chamberlain is permitted to pitch, the problem on Sunday was their quality. Chamberlain allowed a season-high seven runs in three innings as the Yankees were beaten 7-1 by the Mariners at Safeco Field. He has made five starts since the Yankees revamped their approach with him in late August, turning in four three-inning outings and one four-frame start. Over that 16-inning span, Chamberlain has allowed 14 earned runs on 23 hits, a 7.87 ERA. Chamberlain is 1-1 with a 5.06 ERA in three starts vs. Boston in 2009.

BOS: LHP Jon Lester (14-7, 3.33 ERA)
The lefty didn't have his best stuff in his last start, but still turned in a quality outing, giving up 10 hits and three runs over six innings. Lester walked none and struck out four. Lester has allowed more than three earned runs just once in his past 20 starts. He is 11-2 over that span. In three starts against the Yankees this season, Lester is 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA. In 17 road starts, Lester is 8-4 with a 3.53 ERA.

The Yankees are 6-9 vs. the Red Sox in 2009 and have won six of their past seven against Boston. ... New York has homered in 67 of 75 games at Yankee Stadium and leads the Majors with 231 homers. ... Derek Jeter (201) and Robinson Cano (196) are looking to become the fifth pair of Yankees teammates to collect at least 200 hits in the same season, joining Lou Gehrig and Earle Combs (1927), Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio (1936, '37), Bernie Williams and Jeter (1999) and Alfonso Soriano and Williams (2002). ... Johnny Damon is three games played shy of reaching the 140 game plateau for the 14th consecutive season, extending the longest current streak of its kind. He will be one of five Major Leaguers all-time to play 14 or more consecutive seasons of 140 or more games, joining Henry Aaron, Brooks Robinson, Pete Rose and Willie Mays.

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On the Internet
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• MY9, TBS

On radio
• WCBS 880, 92.7 WQBU (Español)

Up next
• Saturday: Yankees (CC Sabathia, 18-7, 3.31) vs. Red Sox (Daisuke Matsuzaka, 3-5, 6.80), 4:10 p.m. ET
• Sunday: Yankees (Andy Pettitte, 13-7, 4.15) vs. Red Sox (Paul Byrd, 1-2, 6.04), 1:05 p.m. ET
• Monday: Yankees (TBD) vs. Royals (TBD), 7:05 p.m. ET

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