Detroit — The Yankees might've been sending a not-to-subtle message recently, when on their media team's daily list of players approaching milestones, they left off the fact Alex Rodriguez was quickly closing in on Willie Mays' 660 home runs.
Rodriguez, remember, is supposed to get a $6 million bonus every time he passes a guy on the all-time home run list, but the Yankees are said to be balking at that, following his year-long suspension for performance-enhancing drug use.
Now, Major League Baseball might've sent their own subtle message Monday, when they listed seven candidates for American League player of the week, and Rodriguez wasn't one of them — despite his three homers, five RBIs, .478 on-base percentage and .889 slugging percentage.
"Nelson Cruz, how many homers did he this week? Sixteen," Yankees manager Joe Girardi quipped before Monday's series opener against the Tigers at Comerica Park. Cruz, actually, hit six, and the Mariners slugger won the weekly award. "(Alex) had a great week. Just keep having great weeks. We'll worry about player of the week later."
Rodriguez, 39, is off to a pretty good start in his return to baseball, and has been, by far, the best performer for the Yankees offense.
It's a stunner, given he didn't play all last year, and barely even played in 2013 after having two hip surgeries.
Through 13 games, he's hitting .286/.412/.643 with four homers and 11 RBIs, enough for Girardi to move him up to third in the lineup for Monday's game. Carlos Beltran, back after a nasty head cold, took Rodriguez's spot batting fifth.
"A whole lot," Girardi said, when asked what Rodriguez has meant to the team this season. "You look at the run production that we've got from him, a lot of our wins are a direct result of what he has done in certain games.
"I wasn't sure what to expect in spring training, I really wasn't. But Alex is a worker, and he knows how to play the game and he's been a very smart player for a long time. So if there was anyone who could figure it out quickly, it would be Alex."
Rodriguez heard the boos early and often Monday night, and went 0-for-4, including a flyout in the ninth inning of the 2-1 loss.
Rodriguez is at 658 homers, two behind Mays for fourth on the all-time list. The road is longer to catch Babe Ruth (714), Hank Aaron (755) and Barry Bonds (762).
Each time Rodriguez passes one of those guys, the Yankees will owe him the $6 million bonus as part of a 10-year, $275-million contact signed in December 2007. Yankees officials, however, plan to fight those bonuses, according to multiple reports, by saying the bonuses were to be for "marketing" and that given Rodriguez's tainted history, his achievements won't be nearly as marketable.
It is worth noting, on Monday's Yankees game notes, it was mentioned that Rodriguez was two homers from Mays — it was the 10th section of the game notes.
Rodriguez didn't talk to reporters before Monday's game, the first of four between the Yankees and Tigers this week.
Around the horn
The Yankees sweep of the Rays was their first in St. Petersburg since — get this — September 2005, before the Rays got good. They entered Monday night at 6-6, thanks to Rodriguez's resurgence and a terrific bullpen.
... Ex-Tiger Andrew Miller is doing just fine in his first season as closer, after signing a four-year, $36 million contact this winter. He has four saves through the team's first 12 games, and has 12 strikeouts in six innings of work.
... Yankees-Tigers, it's been a familiar postseason matchup since 2006. The teams have met three times in October, and the Tigers have won all three of them — joining the Dodgers and Cardinals as the only teams to beat the Yankees three times in the playoffs.