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A-Rod quiets his critics...for now

Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor

Chris Ruddick Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - If there was anyone that needed to get off to a quick start this season, it was New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez.

After two abysmal showings in the ALDS, Rodriguez was pestered with questions this offseason as to whether or not he was happy in New York, would he accept or request a trade and why his relationship with Derek Jeter has soured in recent years.

Granted, Rodriguez brought most of it on himself with his exorbitant contract and smug attitude, but you couldn't help but feel sorry for him at times last season, when he just continued to come up empty in big spots.

I would not have blamed him if he asked to be traded this past winter after the way he was treated by Yankees fans, who seemed to relish every chance they got to boo him.

Things weren't made any easier for Rodriguez this winter, when it was learned that there is an opt-out clause after this season in his monster $25-million a year contract. With Scott Boras as his agent, despite how many times Rodriguez says he is happy in New York, everyone knows he is opting out.

He would be crazy not to. He is only 31 and is the best all-around player in baseball. Another $200 million deal is not out of the question. I would question him if he didn't leave.

Alex Rodriguez
Alex Rodriguez has 10 homers in 14 games this season.
Things got even dicier for Rodriguez when he reported to camp, as it was HE that talked about his relationship with Jeter at the start of spring training. Sometimes Rodriguez is just too honest, which is surprising for someone that just seems so media and image savvy. Look, everyone knows he and Jeter don't get along. There was no reason to explain the situation. It seems every time he opens his mouth, he gets in trouble.

Now that the season has started, A-Rod has done his talking with his bat. For the second time this month Rodriguez came through when it mattered most for the Yankees, as he belted his second walk-off home run of the season on Thursday against the Cleveland Indians.

The homer was Rodriguez's major league-leading 10th of the season, and the two-time AL MVP also leads the league with 26 RBI. His 10 homers in 14 games also broke Cleveland's Ken Keltner's 59-year-old American League record for fewest games to reach the 10-homer mark. Only Philadelphia's Mike Schmidt in 1976 reached double-digit homers in less games.

Rodriguez, who also hit a game-winning grand slam against Baltimore earlier in the year, is also the first player with two walk-off homers this early in the season since Philadelphia's Pat Burrell had two in the first nine games of 2002. He also has a 19-game hitting streak dating back to last season and is hitting .351 on the year.

Now the real test for Rodriguez begins, as the Yankees start a three-game series in Fenway this weekend against the Boston Red Sox and their top three pitchers.

Actually, as everyone knows, Rodriguez's true test will come in October.

He can hit all the game-winning homers and take all the curtain calls he wants now. But if Rodriguez hits like he has the last two-plus postseasons, he will again hear the boos and New York will always be the blemish on what will undoubtedly be a Hall of Fame career.

PHILLIES IN A PHUNK

Now from the good to the bad. The Philadelphia Phillies, picked by many -- including yours truly -- to reach the postseason this year, are off to a horrendous start. Not only do they own the National League's worst record, but manager Charlie Manuel seems to be coming apart at the rather large seams.

First he almost got into a fist fight with a Philadelphia radio host, then he makes the absurd decision to put Brett Myers into the bullpen and bring Jon Lieber back into the rotation.

Now given what he has to work with, I am all for the Phillies moving a starter into the pen. And if Lieber is not getting the job done, then move someone else there. I don't know how they can make that assumption after just two outings, but what do I know.

Why Myers, though? He is the ace of your team and one of the best young pitchers in baseball. The Yankees have three starters on the disabled list right now. I don't think Joe Torre is going to move Mariano Rivera into the rotation anytime soon.

Didn't they just re-sign Myers to a three-year, nearly $26 million deal this offseason. Not bad money for a set-up man. Why not move Adam Eaton there? What has he done that has been so great to keep his spot in the rotation?

I am convinced that Eaton has pictures of somebody in the Philadelphia front office. Not only does he set the market last winter with an absolutely obscene contract for a pitcher who has done nothing in his career other than miss a lot of starts because of injury, but now he is being treated as if he, not Myers, has been a cornerstone for this team the last few years.

Things are going bad in Philly, that is for sure. I almost saw this coming. I was going to pick Davey Johnson or Jimy Williams as my manager of the year in the NL because I figured the Phils would get off to a bad start, fire Manuel and rebound. The only reason I didn't, though, was because in the 30 years Pat Gillick has been a GM, only once has he fired a manager in season. Ironically, that was Williams when he was with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1989.

Maybe he will fire Manuel and hire Williams as a way of making amends.

Speaking of Gillick, he should not escape any blame here either. Anyone would have traded two borderline prospects for Freddy Garcia in a contract year, so that doesn't count. Sign him and we can talk about that move. But what else has he brought in to make this team better? Ryan Franklin and Tom Gordon in 2006? Wes Helms, Antonio Alfonseca and Eaton this year?

Manuel basically begged for some bullpen help at the Winter Meetings. For what they gave Eaton they could have landed a Chad Bradford or Jamie Walker or even signed their own FA in Aaron Fultz. Now they are throwing their ace in the pen.

Could everyone just have been wrong about the Phillies this season?

ESPN analyst and former Phillie John Kruk had a funny line the other night, talking about Jimmy Rollins' bold claim that the Phillies were the team to beat in the NL East this season. Kruk said something to the effect that they are the team to beat, teams beat them night in and night out.

Classic.

MOVE OF THE WEEK

Manuel may not be the only manager that could be looking for work soon. How about Cleveland skipper Eric Wedge pitching to Rodriguez on Thursday? With first base open and Jason Giambi on deck, Wedge chose not to walk A-Rod. Sure Giambi had already homered, but Rodriguez has been the best player on the planet this season. Obviously, the move didn't work out and the Indians were swept by a Yankees team that threw three rookies at them in the series.

BUEHRLE TURNING THE CORNER?

Mark Buehrle took a big step towards regaining the form that made him one of the best pitchers in the league on Wednesday, as he tossed the majors' first no-hitter of the season and the first for the White Sox since Wilson Alvarez's no-no in 1991.

Buehrle was a big reason behind Chicago's improbable World Series championship in 2005. However, as big of a part as he played in their success, his atrocious 2006 campaign contributed to White Sox' struggles last year.

The 28-year-old left-hander, who can become a free agent at season's end, went just 12-13 with a 4.99 earned run average in 32 starts last season. Prior to last year he had won at least 16 games in all but one season -- which he won 14 -- since becoming a full-time starter in 2001.

Now through three starts this season, Buehrle is 1-0 with a sparkling 2.08 ERA. Not to spoil the moment, but he also had a pretty good April in 2006, so I guess we will have to wait and see.

However, if Buehrle is back to being the pitcher that won 19 games in 2002, not only will he make a truck load of money this winter, but things could get real interesting in a wide open AL Central this season.

WHEW! FELIX OK

That big sigh of relief that you heard Thursday night was all of Seattle exhaling when it was learned that phenom Felix Hernandez's elbow injury was nothing more than a mild strain of the flexor-pronator muscle.

Hernandez left Wednesday's 5-4 loss to Seattle with elbow discomfort after he had given up three runs on two hits in just one-third of an inning.

The 20-year-old right-hander has been the best pitcher in baseball thus far, having yielded no runs over 17 innings until his last start. After striking out a career-high 12 batters on Opening Day, King Felix stole the show from Daisuke Matsuzaka in the latter's Fenway Park debut, tossing a one-hit shutout on April 12.

Luckily for Seattle, and all of baseball for that matter, Hernandez is only expected to miss a few starts.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Ruddick at cruddick@sportsnetwork.com.
Chris Ruddick


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