Alex Rodriguez returns to Yankees

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- "Big Brother" is back.

Those are the words Alex Rodriguez used to describe himself on his first day back with the New York Yankees since suffering a broken left hand on July 24.

"I feel like Big Brother was away for a while," Rodriguez said before Monday's game between the Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays. "We have a couple of other brothers that are coming back soon. I think we're right where we want to be."

A-Rod's return comes at a time when the Yankees are struggling in the standings, having seen their 10-game lead in the AL East whittled down to two, and on the roster, with starting first baseman Mark Teixeira and starting center fielder Curtis Granderson out of the lineup with injuries.

Rodriguez is in Monday's lineup as the DH and batting cleanup, but he said, "I'm not here to save the day. I'm here to be part of a winning team."

The Yankees, though, are looking fror him to re-energize a lineup that has gone flat recently.

With Rodriguez back, "You have to look at how you''re going to pitch to the guys in front of him," manager Joe Girardi said. "You know at any point he can change the complexion of the game with one swing, and you have to be concerned about that as the opposing pitcher."

Until he got hit by a pitch from the Mariners' Felix Hernandez in the eighth inning of a game in Seattle, Rodriguez was having a decidedly un-A-Rod-like season, batting .276 with 15 home runs and 44 RBIs.

But in his absence, the team has gone 18-18 and seen its lead evaporate from seven games ahead of the Baltimore Orioles to just two. The Rays sit in third place, 3½ games back.

Part of the reason, Girardi believes, is that the left-handed-heavy Yankees lineup has suffered from the loss of Rodriguez's right-handed bat.

"During the course of a game guys could bring in left-handers to face two lefties in a row, or three out of four," Girardi said, "so I think it is important to have that back."

Rodriguez laughed when he was asked if he was expected now to save the Yankees' season from freefall.

"I'm just excited to be back," he said. "I hit cleanup for a reason and they expect me to do what I do, be very productive and help this team win. If that means a sacrifice fly or drawing a walk or a three-run homer, whatever it takes to make this team better, that's what I'm willing to do."