TAMPA, Fla. -- As he packed a bag at his locker Tuesday morning, Mark Teixeira talked about Alex Rodriguez, and about how much time it takes to recover from surgery. If you recall, Rodriguez had hip surgery in the spring of 2009 -- a procedure that is relatively new in baseball -- and at the end of last season, he looked wooden in the field and at the plate, struggling to move laterally.
But Rodriguez has dropped weight, greatly improved his flexibility, and as Teixeira noted, he has had more time to heal, to get past the effects of his surgery. Rodriguez has had a spectacular spring, with a slugging percentage of .936 going into the Yankees' last exhibition.
"I played with Alex in 2003, in Texas," Teixeira said. "To me, this is like the Alex of 2003. … This is the sharpest he has looked since 2003."
Rick Porcello started against the Yankees in Tuesday's exhibition, the final spring game for both teams, and Rodriguez came to the plate with the bases loaded and one out, and after falling behind in the count, Rodriguez dug himself out of a hole, fouling off a couple of tough pitches. By the end of his at-bat, Rodriguez was taking vicious cuts, barely missing a couple of pitches, and Porcello, working carefully, wound up walking him to force in a run.
A little while later, Rodriguez darted to his right to intercept a ground ball, and he got to his feet and threw to first base to cut down a runner. He has made plays to his right this spring, Joe Girardi mentioned earlier in the day, that you would not have seen last year.
Like all teams, the Yankees will open the season with questions, about the back end of their rotation, in particular. But they appear to have an answer in Alex Rodriguez, who seems poised to have the kind of season he had in 2007, or 2003.
• Generally, it was a good spring for the Yankees in finding solutions; Ivan Nova has looked good, Bartolo Colon appears to be capable of being a weapon, with his fastball humming in the low to mid-90s, and the Yankees might have struck it big (given the price) with Eric Chavez, who feels like he has rediscovered some power in his swing.
Other teams that found answers this spring: The Giants, who look nothing like a club with a spring hangover and everything like a team intent on repeating, with a slimmed-down Pablo Sandoval prepared for a rebound season; the Rockies, who could have a dominant bullpen, because of all the power arms at Jim Tracy's disposal; the Braves, who got great work out of their two young closer candidates, Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters, and out of rookie first baseman Freddie Freeman; and Oakland, which appears to have the deepest pitching staff of any team in the majors.
Girardi is optimistic as the Yankees' season is set to begin.
• Grady Sizemore's spring has given the Indians a sense of optimism, writes Paul Hoynes. It still looks like Sizemore could be back around tax day.
• Chase Utley told reporters the other day that his goal is to come back before the All-Star break, and Brad Lidge is out at least three to six weeks; shoulder strains can be completely unpredictable. As mentioned yesterday, rival executives believe the Phillies will be very aggressive during the season in looking to add pieces for their everyday lineup; remember, this is a front office that has made deals for Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cliff Lee twice in the past 21 months.
And it's also worth bringing back this little nugget from a column last month: The Phillies appear to have one of the easiest schedules of any team in the majors in the first part of the season. Only seven of their first 31 games are against clubs that had records over .500 last year, with only one series against the Reds and Giants before the All-Star break. It's a nice break for them that early in the year, when their lineup will probably be at its weakest, they will get to see some of the weakest teams, with that incredible rotation.
The toughest opening schedule in the NL: The Arizona Diamondbacks, with 27 of their first 37 games against teams with records over .500.
To review, the toughest opening schedule in the AL belongs to the Toronto Blue Jays, and the Royals have the easiest.
• Frank and Jamie McCourt are quietly working on a settlement.
In a related story: Andre Ethier indicates his days with the Dodgers may be numbered.
Earlier this spring, I had a conversation with a respected executive about the Dodgers. "Where will they be in five years?" he asked. "They've got [Matt] Kemp and Ethier and [Clayton] Kershaw now, but they don't have a lot coming up behind them. If McCourt has to sell the team, the guy who takes over is going to have a big challenge on his hands."
A Dodgers fan would rather eat his tickets than have lunch with Frank McCourt, writes Bill Plaschke. From the column, about a season-ticket holder:
After all these years, Brian Gadinsky was invited to lunch with the owner of the Dodgers.
And he turned it down.
He turned it down for the same reason he had earlier trashed his season-ticket renewal notice, which led to the invitation in the first place.
He turned it down because it would mean breaking bread with Frank McCourt, and he is done with Frank McCourt.
"My friends all asked me if I was crazy," Gadinsky said. "I told them, no, I am just tired. ... I am tired of being loyal to a man who has not returned that loyalty."
• Baseball has established a seven-day disabled list to deal with concussion symptoms. A smart move, a good decision.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Blue Jays decided to start Edwin Encarnacion at third base, with Jose Bautista moving to right field. Look, in a very short time, Brett Lawrie will be summoned from the minors, and so it's a no-brainer to facilitate Bautista's comfort at the plate. Toronto is paying him to hit, and not because of his glove; John Farrell might as well put him in right field now.
2. Alex Gordon has been so good this spring that he will hit third for the Royals.
3. The Giants are deciding what to do with Brandon Belt. This is a big decision, writes Tim Kawakami. If the Giants open the season with Belt in the minors and keep him there for less than two weeks, that would ensure that he could not become a free agent until after the 2017 season. If he starts the year in the big leagues and remains, he would become eligible for free agency after 2016. From someone familiar with service-time rules: "In most seasons the season is 183 days long -- this year it is actually 182 days long. In order to avoid a full year's service time a player must have less than 172 days in that season. In other words, the Giants -- in this hypothetical situation -- would want to make sure Belt is off the ML roster for at least 11 days. And maybe, because of one less day in the season, they would do 12 days. At 11 days the cutoff would be April 10; at 12 days the cutoff would be April 11."
To play devil's advocate: Belt is clearly going to be the first baseman by mid-April, at the latest, and the Giants should consider the possibility that Belt will help them win a couple of games early in the year -- and as they know from last season's NL West race, one or two wins could make all the difference. From a big-picture perspective, it would be a no-brainer: They should leave Belt in the minors for at least a couple of weeks to control his service time.
4. Terry Francona must decide what he's going to do with his lineup against lefties and righties.The guess here is that very soon, he will be platooning J.D. Drew and David Ortiz.
5. Jordan Zimmermann will have an innings limit this season of 150-165.
6. The Padres and Mets swapped former first-rounders.
7. Jeff Suppan was released by the Giants.
8. Mark Hendrickson is thinking about what's next after being cut.
9. The Rays' bullpen has taken shape, Marc Topkin writes.
10. The Rangers settled on their pitching staff, Jeff Wilson writes.
11. Freddie Freeman will hit eighth for the Braves.
12. Scott Cousins is poised to be part of the Marlins' roster to start the year.
Dings and dents
1. Stephen Strasburg is about to embark on the hard part of his rehab, writes Adam Kilgore.
2. Brian Wilson will open the year on the disabled list.
3. Jake Peavy had a good side session, but he is still bummed out.
4. J.J. Putz is ready to go; Stephen Drew is not.
5. Jason Bay could start the year on the disabled list.
6. J.A. Happ could start the year on the disabled list.
7. Jonathan Lucroy has been cleared for action.
The battle for jobs
A Mariners pitcher completed an improbable journey, Geoff Baker writes.
1. Scott Kazmir had good results in his final outing; his fastball topped out at 89 mph, Mike DiGiovanna writes.
2. Roy Oswalt is ready to go, after making his last start.
3. Hideki Matsui threw out three hits at the right time.
4. Ross Ohlendorf struggled in his last spring outing.
5. Brett Cecil's velocity climbed.
6. Jaime Garcia had a nice finish to his spring.