Benched by Yankees, A-Rod draws on pep talk from Junior

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The career of Alex Rodriguez, two days beyond his 41st birthday, has come full circle.

Twenty-one years ago, he was a rookie battling for playing time with the Seattle Mariners who, by his account, "demoted me five times in one year." During one of those demotions, he said he got a phone call.

"On the other side of that phone was Ken [Griffey Jr.]," he said. "And I’ll never forget that because he basically said, 'Hey, keep working hard, you’re going to get your shot.' And he told my mother the same thing, he told my brother the same thing, told my sister the same thing. You think about him being a Hall of Famer this week, it’s something I’ll never forget."

Rodriguez told the story in answer to a question about having to fight his way back into a lineup -- this time, that of the New York Yankees -- 20 seasons and nearly 700 home runs later. "It’s part of the game, man. It’s a tough game," he said. "The one thing I've learned is I know how to come back, you know?"

He was referring, of course, to his resurgent 2015 season, in which he returned from a yearlong suspension to hit 33 home runs and drive in 86 runs.

His bat has shown no such life this season. He is hitting just .206 with nine homers and 29 RBIs, and his OPS is .619, the second-lowest among Yankees regulars (Mark Teixeira's is .596). Friday night's series opener against the Tampa Bay Rays marked the sixth consecutive game he was kept out of the Yankees lineup by Joe Girardi, despite the manager's acknowledgment that Jake Odorizzi, the Rays' right-handed starter, has reverse splits, meaning that right-handed hitters have had more success against him than left-handers.

Girardi explained that decision by saying he wanted to use the hot-hitting Carlos Beltran at designated hitter Friday night to save his 39-year-old legs from the hard Tropicana Field turf. The manager would not even commit to starting Rodriguez against Drew Smyly, the Rays left-hander scheduled for Saturday.

"I'll look at it," Girardi said. "It's a possibility."

So desperate has Rodriguez become for playing time that he has taken to carrying a first baseman's glove -- OK, so it's really Teixeira's -- and taken grounders at the position during batting practice. He said he was doing it "to give Joe more flexibility." But Rodriguez acknowledged that last season, when he quickly abandoned an attempt to play first base in spring training, he really didn't need to put any time into learning a new position.

"Last year I played 151 games and I thought all my focus and the best way for me to help the team was hitting third and being the DH," he said. "This year is totally different."

Totally different from last year, but not all that different from 1995.