TAMPA — Alex Rodriguez said it all started with a simple dinner with Lakers star Kobe Bryant this offseason.
Rodriguez, 36, was coming off the worst year of his career, with the three-time American League MVP hobbled by knee, shoulder and finger injuries. Bryant was "adamant" in suggesting a plasma-rich platelet procedure by Dr. Peter Wehling in Germany, telling Rodriguez the series of injections made him feel "like a 27-year-old" again after considering retirement due to knee issues.
Rodriguez, initially hesitant but pushed by Bryant, flew to Germany in December for the therapy on his right knee and left shoulder. He said he feels 100 percent heading into this year.
"If I can play as well as Kobe," Rodriguez said, "we're in business."
The Yankees would merely like him to play like the Rodriguez of old. He has spent time on the disabled list in each of the past four years and played 99 games last season, finishing with 16 homers and 62 RBIs.
It snapped a record streak of 13 years with 30 homers and 100 RBIs.
"Disappointing," he said.
Rodriguez wouldn't predict his stats or how many games he'll play, other than saying "the number is not 99, that's for sure." Even as Father Time has snapped him of his invincibility, Rodriguez believes another year like 2007 (54 homers, 156 RBIs) isn't out of reach, is determined to remain a cleanup hitter and full-time third baseman, and hopes to play into his 40s.
"Anything is possible," he said.
Rodriguez said he may have gone too hard in previous offseason workouts, potentially leading to injury, which is why he's taking a "less is more" approach and doing more corrective exercises, which he feels can lengthen his career. His health dominated a 20-plus minute discussion with reporters Saturday at Steinbrenner Field, with Rodriguez joking it sounded like a "commercial" for Wehling.
Rodriguez said the procedure in Germany, which included five injections of his own blood in a five-day span, had an immediate impact. His left finger injury, an annoyance since August, was better by Christmas. And while manager Joe Girardi said he plans to use Rodriguez at DH in some games and keep a watchful eye, he expects a "big year."
Girardi said Rodriguez was on track in the first half, hitting .295 with 13 homers and 52 RBIs, before missing six weeks due to knee surgery.
"I don't know if he'll hit 45 home runs; that's just not easy to do, but I expect him to be extremely productive," Girardi said. "I don't expect any falloff."
Rodriguez expects big things from the defending AL East champions, saying they're "poised to strike" after bolstering their rotation. He said the Giants' Super Bowl victory and the recent sensation of Knicks guard Jeremy Lin has them wanting to join the party, even saying Lin could crash at his place in Manhattan.
Rodriguez smiled: "Imagine the tabloids then."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]