A-Rod back in the lineup, not on the field

Alex Rodriguez, sidelined since Thursday with what the Yankees are calling a strained hip flexor and A-Rod is calling a sore groin, returned to the cleanup spot in the Yankee lineup tonight, although not as a third baseman but as a designated hitter.

“We watched him take ground balls yesterday and we just didn’t think he had the lateral movement that we wanted to see quite yet,’’ manager Joe Girardi said before tonight’s game against the Phillies at Yankee Stadium. “So we’re going to ease him back into it. As far as playing third base, I don’t have a date for it yet. He’ll play soon, though.’’

Rodriguez, 34, left a game in Baltimore last Thursday after the first inning, saying he had “locked up’’ trying to react to a ball hit to his left by Adam Jones. In his place tonight, Kevin Russo starts at third base and bats eighth in the Yankee lineup. A-Rod did not make himself available in the clubhouse before the game.

And for A-Rod, Phillies starter Jamie Moyer may be just the tonic he needs to cure his bat, if not his hip. In 54 career at-bats, Rodriguez is hitting .389 with 6 home runs and 12 RBI against the 47-year-old left-hander.