Who needs A-Rod when Yankees have Carlos Beltran?

OAKLAND, Calif. -- In his past 17 games, Carlos Beltran has batted .267 with five home runs and 16 RBIs. Over that span, his on-base percentage has hit a season high of .297, and his OPS is .882.

Why are Beltran's numbers over the past 17 games significant? Because that period coincides precisely with the amount of time Alex Rodriguez has been out of the New York Yankees' lineup with a hamstring strain. And not coincidentally, over that span, Beltran has started 10 games at designated hitter and only six in the outfield.

By contrast, over the first 24 games of the season, 22 of which Beltran started in right field, his OBP was 20 points lower and his OPS only .710.

Clearly, keeping Beltran off his 39-year-old legs as much as possible has benefited his production at the plate.

Beltran had a big night Friday in the Yankees' 8-3 victory over the Oakland Athletics with three doubles and three RBIs, although one of them, a line drive to straightaway center, froze center fielder Coco Crisp and probably should have been caught. Still, Beltran hit the ball with authority all night, and with the absence of A-Rod and the continuing struggles of Mark Teixeira (another 0-for-5 and six runners stranded in scoring position, hitless in his past 14 at-bats and batting .196), his is the most dangerous bat in the Yankees' lineup. In the two games in Oakland so far, Beltran is 5-for-10 with a home run, three doubles and six RBIs.

Beltran's three RBIs Friday, along with a two-run triple by Ronald Torreyes, paved the way for an easy return to action for CC Sabathia, who pitched six strong innings, allowing just one run on three hits and striking out eight in his first start after a 16-day stint on the disabled list with a groin strain.

But there is another return looming that could negatively affect the Yankees' offense: the return of Rodriguez.

Although it appears likely A-Rod's return will be delayed until the team returns to New York and opens a brief three-game homestand against the Toronto Blue Jays, manager Joe Girardi faces a dilemma: Does he give A-Rod, who is hitting .194, his old DH job back and return the hot-swinging Beltran to right field? Not only does this put added demands on Beltran's aging body, it compromises the Yankees' outfield defense and takes Aaron Hicks, who has been swinging better lately, out of the lineup.

On virtually a daily basis since A-Rod went on the disabled list May 4, Girardi has professed to be "hopeful" that he would return to the lineup as soon as possible.

But now that the day is drawing near, a Yankees lineup with Alex Rodriguez as the everyday DH and Carlos Beltran back in right might no longer be Girardi's best option -- or his team's.