Alex Rodriguez crushed one Wednesday, home run number 656 of his career. Rodriguez sits fifth all-time for career home runs and needs four more to tie Willie Mays. Two home runs already from Rodriguez might be more than many were expecting from the slugger. Over the last five years, Rodriguez has had multiple hip surgeries and faced a lengthy suspension as his play followed a downward track.
But through nine games this season, Rodriguez is hitting .286 with a .394 on-base percentage and .571 slugging. Beyond his home runs he has seven RBI and five walks, along with 12 strikeouts.
Adjust some of those numbers for a full 162-game season and we have 36 home runs and 126 RBI – essentially matching his last good, healthy season in 2010.
However, the reality is we don’t know what we are going to get from Rodriguez this year. Signs point in a positive direction if you’re a Yankees fan, but the optimism comes with a warning label.
Rodriguez is going to be 40 in July. The list of players age 39 and older who have been successful is a much shorter one than those before it. But there are a few notables who have been impressive in their age-39 season – including two players Rodriguez is chasing on the all-time home run list.
In 2004, Barry Bonds smashed 40 home runs and slugged .812. He also had an impressive on-base percentage of .609.
In 1974, Hank Aaron smashed 40 home runs.
Rodriguez, however, has been given something that could help him continue a successful career – science (and not the pharmaceutical kind). Even though Rodriguez was suspended for all of last season because of his role in the BioGenesis scandal, Rodriguez had to rehab and regain strength in his hip. That time away may have been a hidden blessing for him.
Rodriguez suffered a hip impingement, which doesn’t allow the ball and socket joint to rotate smoothly. It’s not a problem caused by PEDs, but instead one that occurs in the developmental phase. Imagine swinging a bat thousands of times, and the strain and torque that is placed on the hips – the joint could not develop properly. Often the signs aren’t noticeable until much later, and even then misdiagnosis is common.
Research shows the body begins to adjust to alleviate the discomfort in the hips when there is an impingement, causing pain in other areas while also throwing off mechanics.
Rodriguez’s diminished production from 2011 to 2013, where he seemed lost at the plate, could very well be a symptom of the hip impingement.
Yet, surgery that shaved the head of the ball joint down to give his hip better movement could be exactly what he needed – not steroids.
Is Rodriguez going to hit 36 home runs and drive in 125 runs? Maybe. Maybe not. Only time will tell. Either way, Rodriguez has shown one thing over the first 10 days of the season – he can still hit a ball, and hit it far.