A-Rod takes care of business

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Coming in to this season, Alex Rodriguez had two demons with which he needed to wrestle: (1) his public relations issues; and (2) his reputation as a playoffs choker. Based on how things are going, he’s beating the demons handily.

On the P.R. front, A-Rod has bounced back nicely since the low point of his outing as a steroids user over the offseason.  Some rather boring and tame Kate Hudson stories aside, he has kept himself off the tabloids’ back pages. Indeed, since coming back from the hip injury, he has more or less put his head down, played ball, and has utterly failed to make waves.  Whether this is because of a conscious change in approach to life on his part or simply a function of the New York press growing tied of writing about him is unclear, but either way, demon number one appears to be vanquished.

The playoffs. At the outset it’s probably worth noting that, contrary to his reputation, Rodriguez is not a complete playoff non-entity. Yes, if you start counting from Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS you would be completely accurate to say that Rodriguez has been a zero, having failed to drive in a run with men on base in 27 straight opportunities. Such an observation would be misleading in the grand scheme because it fails to acknowledge that he was a beat in the 2000 ALCS against the Yankees, the 2004 ALDS against the Twins, and probably would have been the ALCS MVP that year if the Yankees didn’t choke Game 4 and the rest of the series away.  But yes, it would still be accurate to say that the guy has struggled since.

Until last night. 3-2 Yankees, a man on second in the fifth inning. A single to left, Jeter comes home, playoff RBI drought broken. A-Rod haters probably aren’t used to the image of the guy standing on first base clapping his hands following an RBI in a key situation — that’s Jeter’s image — but there Rodriguez was, having done what people somehow think him incapable of doing. And he did it again in the seventh inning for good measure.

What has come over A-Rod?  Maybe nothing. Maybe he’s still kind of a weirdo but no one wants to write about him anymore. Maybe the haters are right and he really is some sort of pathological choker and doesn’t know how to approach the postseason and last night’s RBIs are simply a matter of chance and small sample sizes coming back around again.

But maybe A-Rod has also grown up a little. Maybe he has heeded my colleague Bert Blyleven’s advice and has simply decided to enjoy the playoffs, have fun, and stop listening to the people who want to bring him down.  The power of positive thinking and all that.

Whatever the case, it’s nice to see the guy break out of the box he’s been in for so long, put his head down and take care of business on the ballfield. If, as I suspect will be the case, the Yankees go on to win their 27th title, A-Rod’s transformation will be remembered as a key part of that.

The Mets are among six teams that help Dominican prospects earn high school diplomas

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - APRIL 19:  A detailed view of the blackboard with theoretical physics equations in chalk by Alberto Ramos, Theoretical Physics Fellow and visitor, Antonio Gonzalez-Arroyo from the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid (both not in frame) at The European Organization for Nuclear Research commonly know as CERN on April 19, 2016 in Geneva, Switzerland.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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In a special for USA TODAY Sports, Mike Vorkunov details how six teams — the Mets in particular — provide an education program that helps their Dominican prospects earn high school diplomas. It seems like an obvious win-win: smarter players make smarter decisions, making them more likely to achieve their potential as athletes. That, of course, requires spending money, which is why only six teams make the investment. For the players, if baseball doesn’t work out, they are better able to support themselves in other ways.

Vorkunov lists the Pirates, Tigers, Phillies, Diamondbacks, and Mariners as the other teams who provide an education program for their Dominican prospects. We learned earlier this month that the Phillies were also investing in making sure their minor leaguers eat healthy. As Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, “few teams” supply their minor league players with healthy food options.

Juan Henderson, the head of the Mets’ Dominican academy, said, “We see the benefit of it. I gotta tell you, we’re working with a new generation of baseball players. You see in the past that players just carry a bat and a glove and a helmet on the baseball field and in the academy. Those years, I think, are going to be pretty much over. Now they also do that, but they also carry books, they also carry an iPad, they also carry a laptop.”

Kudos to the six teams for making a great decision and here’s hoping the other 24 teams follow suit.

Video: Albert Pujols hits 569th career home run, tying Rafael Palmeiro

ANAHEIM, CA - MAY 22:  Albert Pujols #5 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim returns to the dugout after scoring in the third inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on May 22, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
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Angels first baseman Albert Pujols cranked out a two-run home run in the third inning against Rangers starter Derek Holland, breaking a scoreless tie. It’s the ninth homer of the season for Pujols and the 569th of his career, putting him into a tie with Rafael Palmeiro for 12th on baseball’s all-time home run leaderboard.

Harmon Killebrew is Pujols’ next target at 573, followed by Mark McGwire at 583 and Frank Robinson at 586.

Pujols hadn’t homered since May 13. He entered Monday night hitting a mediocre .228/.309/.395 with eight home runs and 28 RBI in 188 plate appearances.

Alex Gordon to miss three to four weeks with a fractured scaphoid bone

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 22:  Alex Gordon #4 and Mike Moustakas #8 of the Kansas City Royals collide going for a foul ball against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field on May 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The White Sox defeated the Royals 3-2.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Monday has unfortunately been a day of injury news. Royals outfielder Alex Gordon is the latest to hit the 15-day disabled list, as he has been diagnosed with a fractured scaphoid bone in his right wrist. The club has recalled infielder Cheslor Cuthbert from Triple-A Omaha.

Gordon suffered the injury colliding with third baseman Mike Moustakas attempting to catch a fly ball on Sunday afternoon. He is expected to miss three to four weeks, MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan reports.

Gordon was having a tough 2016 campaign and the injury only makes it worse. He’s hitting .211/.319/.331 with four home runs and 10 RBI in 166 plate appearances on the year.

The Royals will likely use Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando in left field in Gordon’s absence.

Orioles trade reliever Brian Matusz to the Braves

BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 17:  Brian Matusz #17 of the Baltimore Orioles pitches against the Seattle Mariners during the fifth inning on May 17, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The Orioles announced on Monday night that the club has traded reliever Brian Matusz to the Braves in exchange for minor league pitchers Brandon Barker and Trevor Belicek. The Braves are also receiving a Competitive Balance Round B pick (76th overall) in the 2016 draft.

Matusz, 29, made his season debut on April 23 after battling a back injury since early March. It’s been a struggle, as the lefty has yielded eight runs on 11 hits and seven walks with just one strikeout in six innings. He is earning $3.9 million and can become a free agent after the season.

MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports that the Braves are expected to designate Matusz for assignment. Essentially, the Braves bought the draft pick for Matusz’s remaining salary of $3 million of $3.9 million total.

Barker, 23, has been pitching at Double-A Mississippi after getting a taste of Triple-A last year. So far this season, the right-hander has a 2.00 ERA with a 40/12 K/BB ratio in 45 innings spanning eight starts and a relief appearance.

Belicek, a 23-year-old left-hander, has spent most of the year with Single-A Rome, compiling a 2.49 ERA with a 29/1 K/BB ratio in 25 1/3 innings over 11 relief appearances.