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.

Bud Norris exits outing with right knee soreness

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Angels’ right-handed reliever Bud Norris made his 23rd appearance of the season on Friday, and after just three pitches, he was done for the night. He worked a 2-1 count to Marlins’ Dee Gordon in the eighth inning, then promptly exited the field after experiencing some tightness in his right knee. Neither Norris nor manager Mike Scioscia believe the injury is cause for major concern, and the 32-year-old right-hander admitted that it may have had something to do with his lack of stretching before he took the mound. For now, he’s day-to-day with right knee soreness, with the hope that the issue doesn’t escalate over the next few days.

While the Angels are lucky to have avoided serious injury, they’ll need Norris to pitch at 100% if they want to stay competitive within the AL West. They currently sit a full nine games behind the league-leading Astros, and haven’t been helping their cause after taking five losses in their last eight games. Friday’s 8-5 finale marked their third consecutive loss of the week.

 

When healthy, Norris has been one of the better arms in the Angels’ bullpen. Through 23 2/3 innings, he’s pitched to a 2.66 ERA, 3.4 BB/9 and an outstanding 11.8 SO/9 in 23 outings. The righty hasn’t allowed a single run in four straight appearances, recording three saves and helping the club clinch four wins in that span. This is his second setback of the year after sustaining a partial fingernail tear on his pitching hand during spring training.

Video: Max Scherzer sets record with 13-strikeout outing

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Max Scherzer is a force to be reckoned with. The Nationals’ right-hander delivered a season-high 13 strikeouts against the Padres on Friday, locking down his fifth win and his fourth double-digit strikeout performance of the year.

More remarkably, it was also the 53rd double-digit strikeout performance of Scherzer’s career, tying Clayton Kershaw for the most 10+ strikeout appearances by an active major league pitcher. Chris Sale is a distant third, with 43 to his name, though he’s been making considerable strides to catch up so far this spring.

Scherzer took the Padres to task on Friday night, whiffing 13 of 31 batters during his 108-pitch outing. He started strong, catching Allen Cordoba swinging on a 1-2 count to start the game and keeping the game scoreless until Ryan Schimpf unleashed a home run in the fourth inning. That was the first and final run the Padres managed off of Scherzer, who retired 14 consecutive batters following the blast and came one out shy of a complete game in the ninth inning. (Fittingly, Koda Glover polished off the win with a final strikeout, bringing the total to 14 on the night.)

It’ll take more than one stellar start to advance Scherzer and Kershaw on the all-time list, however. Their 53-game record ranks 13th, about 159 games behind second-place Hall of Fame hurler Randy Johnson and a full 162 games shy of the inimitable Nolan Ryan.