Notes: A-Rod says he's not distracted
Third baseman insists players' expectations remain high
TORONTO -- Alex Rodriguez had little to say regarding his appearance on the cover of a New York tabloid Wednesday, but he assured reporters that his off-field actions would not affect the Yankees' efforts to right their season.
"I have absolutely no comment on anything personal, and I certainly don't think this will be a distraction to our team," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez appeared in a New York Post photo exclusive that pictured him in Toronto, accompanied by an unidentified woman. Yankees manager Joe Torre said that Rodriguez stopped by his office before Wednesday's game at the Rogers Centre to promise it would not be an issue concerning the slugger's performance.
Rodriguez, who was announced as the Major Leagues' leading All-Star Game vote-getter through the first month of balloting on Wednesday, entered the series finale against Toronto batting .293 with a Major League-leading 19 home runs. A-Rod's 44 RBIs rank third in the American League to Chicago's Magglio Ordonez, who has 48.
"Right now, his priority is baseball," Torre said. "Alex is a big boy. I know how serious he takes his baseball. It really wasn't an issue for me in the fact that he wouldn't be ready to play."
While Rodriguez refused to comment further regarding the newspaper's report, he vented frustration regarding the Yankees' recent struggles. The Yankees have lost five straight games and 13 of 18 leading into Wednesday's contest, and the run -- Rodriguez remarked -- has been emblematic by its inconsistency and imbalance.
"We expect a lot," Rodriguez said. "When you wear this uniform, it's an absolute privilege. A lot of people in baseball are laughing and enjoying what's going on, and I'm not OK with that. This is very frustrating to be involved with, but we'll turn it around."
The Yankees have tried numerous motivational factors to spark the club's spirits during this trip to Toronto. On Monday, Torre held a closed-door team meeting and sent the lineup out for early batting practice; on Tuesday, the Yankees held full infield workouts for the first time since the sun-drenched days of Spring Training.
When those didn't work, the Yankees instead scrapped batting practice altogether Wednesday. The strategy may have finally clicked, as the Yankees batted around against Blue Jays starter Jesse Litsch, knocking the right-hander out after he allowed five runs in two-thirds of an inning.
"All of us collectively need to take a deep breath, smile a little bit and enjoy the game," Rodriguez said before the game. "We've tried so hard the last two days, it's been unbelievable. I've never seen a team try so hard. I think the medicine is to laugh and enjoy it, and that's all the guys, one through 25. I don't think I've seen a guy smile in 72 hours."
Bad news for Hughes: The Yankees announced Wednesday that right-hander Phil Hughes has suffered a Grade 3 sprain of his left ankle, which is expected to cost the hurler an additional four to six weeks in his efforts to rejoin the Major League club.
Hughes, 20, rolled his ankle while performing conditioning exercises on May 25 at Legends Field in Tampa, Fla., where he was rehabilitating a strained left hamstring. Considered one of the brightest prospects in baseball, Hughes made two starts for the Yankees before pulling up lame during a May 1 start at Texas in which he was working on a no-hitter.
Milestone reached: Johnny Damon collected the two hits he needed to reach the 2,000 mark in the first two innings of Wednesday's game against the Blue Jays. Damon led off the first inning with a home run to right-center field off Litsch and opened the second inning with a single to left off reliever Brian Tallet.
The ball was delivered to the Yankees' dugout and safeguarded by trainer Gene Monahan, who has done his fair share of attending to Damon already this season. Before the game, Damon -- who has been sidelined with calf and back problems -- reported that he has felt improvement physically of late, and said he still considers himself one of baseball's elite leadoff hitters.
"If I have to be hurt for the rest of my career, that's not going to be fun," Damon said. "But I'm feeling good now. Hopefully it stays that way."
Countdown sequence: Eyeing his scheduled start on Monday against the White Sox, Roger Clemens threw a bullpen session Wednesday in front of some 57,000 empty seats at Yankee Stadium.
Torre said that Clemens confirmed his targeted work date via e-mail, meaning that the Yankees can remove any "tentative" designation from Clemens' expected return. Clemens is likely to join the team in Chicago, avoiding the frenzied atmosphere of a Fenway Park appearance.
Rest one, play the other: The Yankees' off-day Thursday will become a second free evening for outfielder Bobby Abreu, who is in the midst of a 3-for-21 skid.
Melky Cabrera played right field in Abreu's place, and Torre said he hoped the clean day would do some good, as it appeared to recently in Chicago when Abreu cleared his mind and came back with a better approach against the Mets.
"He's pressing," Torre said. "Sometimes there's a downside to wanting it so bad. He's had some pretty good pitches to hit and he's rolled over them."
Meanwhile, catcher Jorge Posada was back in the Yankees' lineup, mostly because the team can't afford to be without his bat. Posada, the American League's leading hitter entering play Wednesday, has been fighting pain in a tendon behind his left knee.
Coming up: After an off-day Thursday, the Yankees move on to their weekend series at Fenway Park, opening a three-game series with the Boston Red Sox. Right-hander Chien-Ming Wang (3-4, 4.13 ERA) makes the start for New York, with right-hander Tim Wakefield (5-5, 3.36 ERA) countering for Boston. First pitch is set for 7:05 p.m. ET.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.