Struggling A-Rod finds little sympathy

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Alex Rodriguez is stuck in a slump.

Big one, too.

Right when the New York Yankees are in dire need of steady production.

His throws are wild, swings are late. And now he's back in Texas, where he can always count on a cold reception.

He must be getting used to those.

Playing in the Big Apple with a record $252 million contract, Rodriguez is constantly under the microscope. Every failure is magnified, fodder for the back pages of the city tabloids or talk radio.

A-Rod has been booed at Yankee Stadium nearly all season for failing to come through at the plate. Now, it's his shoddy defense that's frustrating fans and -- more importantly -- hurting his team.

"I'm working through it," Rodriguez said recently. "It's not easy, that's for sure."

It's almost strange to hear him say something like that. So many things appear to come so easily to A-Rod on a baseball field.

But lately, he can't even make a routine throw to first base.

Or second, for that matter. Or home plate.

The two-time MVP committed five errors in a five-game span last week and led the American League with 18 going into Monday. Not exactly what you'd expect from the most talented all-around player in baseball.

In fact, it got so bad that manager Joe Torre made Rodriguez the designated hitter Saturday in Toronto -- even with New York trying to snap a three-game skid.

It didn't help his offense any. Rodriguez went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts, including one with the bases loaded, during New York's 5-4 victory.

He finished 0-for-4 again Sunday in a 13-5 loss and was on a 4-for-27 slide going into Monday night's series opener against the Rangers, his former team.

What's wrong with A-Rod? One major flaw is his footwork at third base. But the biggest obstacle is probably in his head.

He committed 12 errors last year, and his strong defense was a big reason he beat out Boston designated hitter David Ortiz for AL MVP.

Rodriguez blames correctable throwing mechanics for most of his errors.

"I don't know what's going on," pitcher Mike Mussina said. "I know he's disappointed in the way he's playing. It's just not him right now. We need him back the way he's supposed to be."

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