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Acrimony behind, Steinbrenner calls A-Rod 'great asset' in return to Yankees

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NEW YORK — Now that Alex Rodriguez has more home runs than lawsuits, the New York Yankees are happy with him.

The 39-year-old began Wednesday with a .248 batting average following his return from a season-long drug suspension, and his 10 homers and 22 RBIs were both second on the team behind Mark Teixeira.

"If he was healthy, I've always said he'd be a good asset, and he's been a great asset," Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner said Wednesday before the Major League Baseball executive council meeting. "He's been playing well, and he's been producing."

New York and A-Rod sniped at each other for 1 1/2 years. He refused to say in July 2013 whether he trusted the Yankees, would not speak with management without one of his lawyers and filed a medical malpractice suit against the team physician. He also sued MLB, then-commissioner Bud Selig and the players' association.

He withdrew the suits and apologized for his actions. Now, even a dispute over a $6 million marketing bonus isn't causing public acrimony.

While he has not played a full season since 2007 because of two hip surgeries and various injuries, Rodriguez appeared in 37 of the Yankees' first 40 games, including 32 as a designated hitter.

"I think there were some unknowns there simply because it had been so long since he played and the age and the hip operations," Steinbrenner said.

"But like I've always said about Alex, he works hard. Nobody was working harder in the offseason than him. He came to spring training in shape, and so far, so good. Could he be playing third base every day? No. Of course not. But the role that he's been put in, it's worked.

Steinbrenner did not discuss details of the dispute between Rodriguez and the team over a $6 million marketing bonus originally contemplated to be paid when A-Rod hit his 660th home run, matching Willie Mays for fourth on the career list.

General manager Brian Cashman has said the Yankees feel they don't owe the payment to A-Rod, a stance that could trigger a grievance from the players' association.

"If there's any contractual obligations on our end, we're going to meet them," Steinbrenner said.

Rodriguez did make an unusual appearance Wednesday, attending a trade group meeting on Capitol Hill of members of the House Rules, and Ways and Means committees, and watching Senate debate from the visitors' gallery.

"Just like any American, it was great to see Capitol Hill, where are the laws are made," he said.

PHOTO: Fans jeer at New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez (13) after he struck out during the  ninth inning of an interleague baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, Tuesday, May 19, 2015, in Washington. The Nationals won 8-6 in 10 innings. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Fans jeer at New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez (13) after he struck out during the ninth inning of an interleague baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, Tuesday, May 19, 2015, in Washington. The Nationals won 8-6 in 10 innings. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Rodriguez has not made a single controversial statement since reporting to spring training in February.

"I think he realized, as well as we ... that none of that would be good for the team. And what matters most to me and to all of us and to him are the success of the team," Steinbrenner said.

He wouldn't say whether he thought Rodriguez was a changed person.

"I'm afraid I have a psychology major but I do not have a Ph.D. in psychology and I don't do it for a living," Steinbrenner said. "I haven't even contemplated that, to be honest with you. All I know is he's been great. He's been great in the clubhouse. He's been good with the young kids, and he's performed."

Coming off consecutive seasons without a playoff appearance, New York was 21-12 before losing six of its past seven games.

"We need to get back to playing the way we were the three, four weeks before: lights-out bullpen, timely hitting, scoring runs consistently," Steinbrenner said.

New York's middle infielders, primarily shortstop Didi Gregorius and Stephen Drew, have combined for a .201 batting average, 29th in the majors ahead of only Texas, according to STATS. Their 20 RBIs are tied for last with Seattle.

"Things have to get better. But defensively we went from probably one of the worst in the American League to one of the better ones I think," Steinbrenner said.

"Stephen Drew is what he is. Didi is everything we'd thought he'd be. He's an incredibly hard-working, positive guy. Great teammate. Good defensively. We're starting to see that now. But the bat has to come around, and I think it will."

Steinbrenner repeated his goal to get under the $189 million luxury tax threshold next year — New York started this season at $238 million and is a distant second to the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are at about $291 million.

"We've got these young players starting to get to the Double-A, Triple-A levels and several of them doing well so far this year," he said. "That, hopefully, is the goal in the years to come —when long-term contracts are over, some of these young kids, the way they do for every other team, it seems, step up, step in and get the job done."

Still, he expects summer moves to improve the roster.

"I'm not afraid to spend money. I never am," he said. "So when July rolls around, the trade deadline rolls around, we're going to see where we're really deficient, and we'll do what we can."


AP freelance writer Benjamin Standig in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

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PHOTO: Fans jeer at New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez (13) after he struck out during the  ninth inning of an interleague baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, Tuesday, May 19, 2015, in Washington. The Nationals won 8-6 in 10 innings. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
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