A-Rod the biggest surprise of Yankees camp?

TAMPA, Fla. -- He was supposed to be a distraction, an annoyance and an albatross this spring. But it turns out Alex Rodriguez has been a revelation for the Yankees.

And when Joe Girardi was asked to name things that surprised him in this year's camp, A-Rod's name was the first that rolled off his tongue.

"I was really pleased with what Alex did,'' Girardi said. “I’ve said all along, I thought Alex was going to help us, but I mean, it’s two years, really, since he played. I wasn’t 100-percent sure. If I was a betting man, I would have bet on him playing well, but there’s still that, you’ve got to see it after two years of not playing and being 39 and a half."

After a hot start at the plate, Rodriguez tailed off slightly, but his .286 batting average is still the second-highest among Yankee regulars; only Chase Headley, A-Rod's replacement at third base, is hitting better (.314), and they share the team lead in home runs with 3. Probably more impressive has been A-Rod's surprisingly adept play at first base, a position Girardi is considering using him as a backup for Mark Teixeira.

"He got tested out there and he made some good plays,'' Girardi said.

Rodriguez got the day off on Friday and was not even required to be at the ballpark until after the clubhouse was closed to the media two hours before first pitch. And Girardi said that his new policy this spring of giving his aging players more time off has paid dividends in fresher legs heading into the start of the regular season.

“I opted to give them more complete days off this spring than just not playing,'' Girardi said. "There were times I chose to say, ‘I don’t want you coming in tomorrow. Stay home and relax.’ It was something I thought would help refresh them more. You play a night game, and you’re not playing the next day, and you come in and work out. You’re not into the first two or three rounds of BP because maybe you’re a little bit tired, then you’re frustrated because you don’t like your BP so you go and take 150 swings. It kind of defeats the whole purpose. I think it helped; I do. I think it breaks up the monotony of spring training, too, for veteran guys.”

Rodriguez has hit well enough this spring that it is likely he will at least start the season as the everyday DH, with occasional starts at first and perhaps even third base when Headley needs a day off, although the acquisition of utility infielder Gregorio Petit probably makes that less likely.

"You probably can’t play him as much as you used to,'' Girardi said. "But I still think you can play him a lot.''

And it's not just that the Yankees can play A-Rod a lot, but it seems as if they want to. Come to think of it, that may truly be the biggest surprise of the entire training camp.