Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said he believes that Alex Rod riguez, who is hitting .118 in his first 34 at-bats, will have a productive season. He also expects the team’s hitting and run production to improve.
“I think he’s just slumping right now,’’ Cashman said Monday of Rodriguez, who will turn 41 July 27. Rodriguez, who has two home runs — including a two-run shot Sunday — and four RBIs, hit 33 homers and batted .250 last year. His 24th homer in 2015 came in his 288th at-bat (on his 40th birthday), but he hit only nine (in 235 at-bats) after that.
“He went south in the last month and a half last year. Everybody went south,’’ Cashman said of the team’s slump. “The full season gives me expectation that you’ll see closer to that type of production for the full season [from Rodriguez] than what we’re getting out of the gate.’’
Ted Williams and Raul Ibañez share the record for home runs (29) at age 41.
Cashman said he realizes Rod riguez’s age will bring doubts about his ability.
“The older you are, when you struggle, that’s going to be part of the questioning that comes with it,’’ he said. “Is it because you’re old or you’re just slumping? If you’re looking — and I’m not saying you’re wrong to look — but if you’re looking for reasons why not to believe, then you’re going to find enough because, yes, the population doesn’t typically provide success at this age group. But when you look at Alex Rodriguez, he was successful last year. Just six months ago.’’
Rodriguez, under contract through 2017, is 11 homers away from 700. As to what will happen if he remains in a prolonged slump, Cashman said: “You’re asking me 10 games in whether we should be thinking about, I guess, releasing him or something like that. In terms of an exit plan, in terms of what happens if he can’t, again . . . it’s not even something that’s on our minds. It’s only part of this discussion because it’s OK to ask. It’s part of [the media’s] thought process, therefore I’m responding to it. But it’s not part of our thought process and I don’t expect it ever to be.’’
As for his general impressions of the team, Cashman said, “We’re in that frustrating side right now where we’re getting a lot of guys on base but then we’re not getting the timely hits. We need to get to the point where the starters go deeper and we hit with runners in scoring position. Those are the two areas of failure right now.’’
Cashman noted issues with centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury (batting .213), saying, “He’s struggling right now both offensively and defensively.’’
Cashman thinks an erratic schedule wasn’t conducive to a fast start. “I would point to some of the off days, back-to-back off days that the season created, and just say give it more time,’’ he said. “It’s too early, in my opinion, to be really focusing on who’s up and who’s not. Just play it out. It’s the ebb and flow of it. When you got guys down, you got to try to wait it out till they get back up. It’s just the way this difficult game works sometimes.’’
As for the rotation, he said, “I think [Michael] Pineda’s first game wasn’t all that good, but his second game up in Toronto was very good. Nathan Eovaldi’s been better than his line. [Luis] Severino hasn’t had a first full season in the big leagues, so he’s getting, in some cases, his second look around lineups. He’s going through his growing pains, which is not unexpected. [Masahiro] Tanaka’s been good. [CC] Sabathia’s been good for the slot he’s pitching out [of].’’
As for the bullpen, Cashman said Aroldis Chapman will assume the closer’s role when he returns from his 30-game suspension May 9.
“Chapman’s never done anything but close. Andrew Miller and [Dellin] Betances have done everything else and had success,’’ Cashman said.
“We figured that the best way to configure all these three assets is to deploy them as we stated; Chapman having the ninth [inning] when he’s available. There’s going to be times when he pitches a number of days and he’s not available; somebody else will close. Miller’s been a closer, setup, starter. He’s done everything without complaining. I can’t say the same for Chapman. . . . You try to put people in positions to have the most success.’’