Slightly over a month ago, Alex Rodriguez was hitting .214 while wrapping up a sideshow minor league rehab stint, quarreling with GM Brian Cashman and preparing to appeal his 211-game suspension for PED use. Now, the Biogenesis-tainted 38-year-old with surgically-repaired hips is perhaps the most important hitter in the Yankees' lineup save for Robinson Cano. A-Rod has launched six homers and batted .299/.383/.513 in 133 plate appearances for the Bombers, who rank second in the majors in runs scored since their third baseman returned on August 5.
A-Rod's resurgence, as Baltimore's Scott Feldman found out the hard way last night, is due to his performance against inside pitches. Opponents have long tried to bust Rodriguez in on the hands, as Matt Holliday is the only batter to see a higher rate of inside pitches (42.9%) over the past two seasons than A-Rod (39.8%). Pitchers won those inside battles in 2012, but baseball's ultimate heel is getting even in 2013.
Rodriguez's slugging percentage vs. inside pitches in 2012
Rodriguez's slugging percentage vs. inside pitches in 2013
Rodriguez slugged a paltry .353 versus inside stuff last season, a far cry from the .415 major league average. This year, though? He's slugging .542 when pitchers challenge him inside. The big difference is that he's hitting far fewer ground balls on inside pitches in 2013 (27%) than in 2012 (47%). A-Rod isn't beating out grounders at this stage of his career, so his lofting pitches more often is a happy development.
A-Rod gets greeted about as warmly as Ivan Drago in Rocky IV when he's on the road, but he's turning initial disdain into grudging acceptance at Yankee Stadium. He might be a pariah, but he's their pariah. Much could be forgiven, if not exactly forgotten, should Rodriguez lead New York back to the postseason.