The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports Columns

October 14, 2012

Thoma: The Yankees without Jeter need A-Rod

— Derek Jeter is down, and he’s not getting up. Not this October.

Alex Rodriguez is down too — not with a severe injury like Jeter’s fractured ankle, but mired in an embarrassing slump that has seen the 647-homer man pinch-hit for in three for four starts (and benched in another).

The first time New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi sent a pinch-hitter up for A-Rod last week, everybody was stunned by the audacity of the move. Now it’s become routine.

Rodriguez’s salary this year was $29 million, but he can’t buy a hit off a right-hander now. And the Detroit Tigers have no left-handed starters. (Rodriguez did single Sunday off a lefty reliever.)

Odd how rapidly things can turn around in October. One minute the Tigers are taking a 4-0 lead into the ninth inning Saturday, the next the Yankees are treating Jose Valverde as a pitching piñata. Then Jeter snaps his troublesome left ankle, and the Tigers come away with the win anyway.

There are no good answers for the Yankees on the left side of their infield. Jayson Nix figures to play shortstop the rest of the way; he’s no Jeter.

Girardi has already — I think unwisely — ruled out a bolder option: Put Rodriguez back at his original position and let Eric Chavez play third base.

True, Rodriguez hasn’t played an inning at shortstop since 2005. But I doubt he’s forgotten how to play short, and if Girardi was willing to live with Jeter’s lack of range he can certainly live with A-Rod’s rust.

True, Rodriguez has been lost at the plate. But Nix isn’t going to hit his way to glory either. Playing Rodriguez at short at least allows both Chavez and Raul Ibanez to be in the lineup.

And maybe giving Rodriguez something else to think about will revive him.

After all, he’s Alex Rodriguez, one of the greatest shortstops God ever put on the planet.

The Strasburg move

The Washington Nationals, who compiled the best won-lost record in baseball in the regular season, couldn’t get past the weaker St. Louis Cardinals in the division series.

Nothing unique there; weaker teams have won postseason series before, and they will again.

But the Nats come in for extra focus because they stuck to their postsurgical plan with pitching wunderkind Stephen Strasburg and shut him down in mid September.

Would Washington have won with Strasburg pitching? We’ll never know.

But this is true: The man who did pitch because Strasburg didn’t — Ross Detweiler — essayed the only quality start the Nationals got in the series.

I defended the Strasburg decision in September; I don’t think playing it safe with him killed the Nationals in October.

They didn’t lose the series because Strasburg didn’t pitch. They lost it because Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson did. And they were going to pitch regardless.

Edward Thoma (344-6377; maintains his Baseball Outsider blog at Follow him on Twitter @bboutsider.

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