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05/05/09 7:45 PM ET

A-Rod makes statement with two homers

Yankees star plays seven innings in extended spring game

NEW YORK -- By hitting a home run against the Yankees on Monday night, Mike Lowell gave Joe Girardi hope.

Not for the short term. Lowell's solo homer off starter Phil Hughes helped propel the Red Sox to a 6-4 win and sent New York to its second successive loss. But seeing Lowell play so well demonstrated something far more important looking ahead to the rest of the season.

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Lowell and Phillies second baseman Chase Utley are both off to hot starts this season after recently recovering from a hip surgery similar to the procedure from which Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez is currently rehabbing. As far as Lowell is concerned, if he could bounce back from such a tough injury, anyone can.

Rodriguez, who has yet to play a game this season, took a major step forward toward his return to the Yankees on Tuesday, going 3-for-6 with two home runs in an extended spring training game in Tampa, Fla. Rodriguez played seven innings in the field and handled two ground balls, including a play to his left that required him to make a spin move before throwing to first. Rodriguez also ran hard to first base without any problems.

Girardi would not set a specific date for Rodriguez's season debut but said that depending on how the three-time American League Most Valuable Player feels Wednesday, his return could come as soon as Friday in Baltimore. He added that having Rodriguez back any day before May 15 would be acceptable.

"I can't believe everyone's shoulder is the same, just as I can't believe everyone's hip is the same," Lowell said before Tuesday's game against the Yankees. "But this is a surgery you can totally come back from. You look at Chase Utley and myself -- we have been able to come back and contribute, so I don't see why Alex can't."

In some ways, Rodriguez may even be ahead of Lowell's pace. Rodriguez had only a portion of the surgery that Lowell had and will complete the operation during the offseason. Lowell predicted that could make Rodriguez's recovery time even shorter. He added that he still does not feel 100 percent and first felt capable of participating in all baseball activities in the middle of Spring Training -- about five months after his surgery.

Girardi said that Lowell was noticeably limping in early March, when the Yankees played the Red Sox during Spring Training in Fort Myers, Fla. Rodriguez has not been limping since having his right hip repaired on March 9. Girardi said on Tuesday that Lowell and Utley's strong play this year is an "encouraging sign" for Rodriguez's return to the lineup. Lowell entered Tuesday hitting .307 this season with six homers and 26 RBIs, and Utley was batting at a .346 clip with eight home runs and 21 RBIs.

In addition to playing extended in spring training games, Girardi said that Rodriguez is still rehabbing his hip every day until about 8 p.m. ET.

Girardi said he wants Rodriguez to serve as the designated hitter either Wednesday or Thursday to rest. Rodriguez will not necessarily have to play nine full innings or take a day off before joining the Yankees, but that is a possibility, depending on his progress.

"There could be some benefit to a complete day off," Girardi said. "I'm not sure that we'll do it. I kind of move back and forth. ... I don't see anything negative that could really come from having a day off, except that's one day maybe we won't have him."

Rodriguez's return was anticipated ever more on Tuesday, when Yankees catcher Jorge Posada went on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right hamstring. With Posada, one of New York's most reliable hitters, out of the lineup for the next couple of weeks, Rodriguez's presence could be exactly what the Yankees need to fill the void.

But considering Rodriguez's importance to the team, Girardi is taking care not to rush the third baseman back and wants to make sure the third baseman is consistently feeling strong after each day before returning.

"You want to have him get enough reps where he feels comfortable, and you want to make sure that when he plays, every day his legs come back," Girardi said.

Jared Diamond is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.