A-Rod returns with Yanks stuck in slide

One of the major leagues' premier right-handed hitters is set to serve a long suspension for drug use. Fortunately for the New York Yankees, that player is not Alex Rodriguez.

A day after baseball suffered another black eye because a player had violated baseball's drug policy, Rodriguez made his season debut following hip surgery -- and his first game since admitting to using performance-enhancing drugs -- as the Yankees faced the Baltimore Orioles on Friday night.

It didn't take long for Rodriguez to make an impact. He hammered a three-run homer in his first at-bat to give the Yankees an early lead in their 4-0 defeat of the Orioles.

"He feels he's ready and we think it's great," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, whose team lost 8-6 to Tampa Bay on Thursday night. "It's great to have your No. 4 hitter come back. In a sense it's like we made a huge trade. We didn't have him the first five weeks so we're all very excited.

"He's excited and I made it very clear that we miss [him]."

Rodriguez rejoins New York (13-15) at a time when it is in desperate need of a spark, losing five straight for the first time since May 2007.

A three-time AL MVP, Rodriguez recovered quicker than expected after hip surgery March 9, but the damage to his place in baseball history may last much longer after he admitted in February to taking steroids while playing for Texas from 2001 to 2003.

Rodriguez also spent much of his rehab assignment fielding questions about a biography released this week that suggests he used performance-enhancing drugs in high school and may have taken them as a Yankee in 2004.

He's returning one day after Los Angeles Dodgers star Manny Ramirez was handed a 50-game ban linked to drug use. Ramirez allegedly used the female fertility drug hCG, which is popular among steroid users because it can relieve the side effects of ending a cycle of steroids.

Ramirez's ban comes three months after Rodriguez's admission, and at a time when Barry Bonds is under federal indictment and Roger Clemens is being investigated by a federal grand jury in cases linked to steroid use. Former sluggers Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa also have had their reputations tainted by steroid allegations.

Rodriguez has managed to avoid a suspension, and New York badly needs his bat in the lineup. He should allow other Yankees to see better pitches, especially No. 3 hitter Mark Teixeira, who's batting .198 after signing a $180 million, eight-year contract in the offseason.

While the Yankees will be happy to get Rodriguez back, they have to be stunned -- and concerned -- after closer Mariano Rivera allowed back-to-back home runs for the first time in his career Thursday. Rivera has given up four home runs in 11 1/3 innings this season, matching his total for each of the past two seasons.

CC Sabathia (1-3, 4.85 ERA), another struggling high-priced Yankees acquisition, will make his seventh start Friday.

The left-hander gave up five runs and eight hits in 6 2/3 innings as New York lost 8-4 to Los Angeles on Saturday. It was another disappointing performance from Sabathia, who signed a $161 million, seven-year contract.

"I've got to do a better job of keeping us in the game," he said.

Sabathia is 5-1 with a 3.01 ERA in 10 starts versus the Orioles. He faced Baltimore in his first start of the season, pitching six innings and giving up three runs and seven hits in a 10-5 loss April 6.

Baltimore's scheduled starter, Jeremy Guthrie (2-2, 5.05), matched up with Sabathia in that game and surrendered three runs in six innings for the win.

Guthrie, though, is 0-2 with a 6.46 ERA in his last four starts. In his last outing, the right-hander allowed four runs in eight innings as Baltimore lost 4-3 to Toronto on Sunday.

He'll be trying to help Baltimore win three straight for the first time this season. The Orioles defeated Minnesota 5-4 on Thursday night for a two-game sweep.

Information from STATS LLC and The Associated Press was used in this report.