Alex Rodriguez got the start on Saturday, but he wasn’t around for the finish. After going 0-for-3, he was removed for pinch-hitter Eric Chavez with the Yankees down to the Tigers 4-0 in the eighth inning of Game 1 of the ALCS.
Up with the bases loaded and two outs in the first, Rodriguez hit a hard grounder in his initial at-bat off Doug Fister, only to see Jhonny Peralta make a diving stop and get the force play at second. A-Rod then hit into a double play his second time up. Batting again with the bases loaded in the sixth, he struck out on three pitches from Fister. The last one was a curveball low and away that he didn’t come close to making contact on.
The hitless game left Rodriguez 2-for-19 with 10 strikeouts in the postseason. He doesn’t have a hit versus a right-hander, and the Tigers will start nothing but righties throughout the ALCS.
One imagines the miserable night will lead to Rodriguez sitting in favor of Chavez in Sunday’s Game 2. Chavez, for what it’s worth, very nearly had a double hitting for A-Rod tonight, but he was robbed on a great play from center fielder Austin Jackson.
Rodriguez could get another chance in Game 3 against Justin Verlander. It’d seem to be a horrible matchup with the way Rodriguez is struggling to catch up to good fastballs right now, but A-Rod is 8-for-24 with three homers lifetime against Verlander, including 4-for-6 with two homers this year.
In Major League Baseball, players are routinely pressured to play through injury and pain. Sometimes it’s just a minor ache, and sometimes it’s a very serious injury. The pressure comes from everywhere: the players themselves, their peers, coaches, front offices, media, and fans. Players who develop a reputation for landing on the disabled list are described as “soft” and “fragile.” Players who battle through the pain get talked about as “gritty” and “dedicated.”
Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Cardinals are trying to encourage their players to be more honest about their health. The culture surrounding this is tough to change, but manager Mike Matheny wants his players to come to him if “anything that is off.” As Goold notes, Alex Reyes and Matt Bowman revealed they were, in Bowman’s words, not “entirely forthcoming.” Carlos Martinez said he pitched tentatively because he was “scared” of re-injuring himself. Matheny also called pitcher Michael Wacha “a great liar” when talking about his arm health.
Matt Carpenter has also played through injury and takes pride in it. He’s an example of the old mentality the club is trying to pierce through. Caarpenter said, “I’m a believer in if you’re getting paid to do a job and you’re capable of doing the job — even if it’s 85 percent of your best — I feel you have the obligation to be out there. That is the mentality I’ve always used. I could have very easily, at times last year, sat on the [disabled list], but I felt like I could still go out and do my job.”
Goold points out that players approach dealing with health issues differently depending on where they’re at in their careers. A young player who just got called up has pressure to stay in the big leagues and appear in games, so he may not want to address a health issue. A player who has already secured a multi-year contract may have less pressure on him and thus may be more willing to come to the trainer’s room.
I’ve long believed that player health will be the next arena in which front offices will separate themselves from the pack. Analytics had been that battleground for a while, but with every club now having an analytics department in some capacity, front offices will have to find value in new ways. Limiting the amount of time that players miss due to injury would be a significant boost for a team and it will start with players being forthcoming about what’s bothering them rather than trying to fight through pain.