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02/25/12 5:10 PM EST

In-shape A-Rod recognizes value to Yankees

Third baseman likes team's chances if he can stay healthy

TAMPA, Fla. -- It has been frustrating for Alex Rodriguez to acknowledge that his body is aging; that the days are gone when he'd show up and realistically expect to play in every single game of the season.

But the Yankees third baseman says that he doesn't feel like a slugger heading into his late 30s; in fact, after being limited to just 99 games last season, Rodriguez is hoping that a smarter approach to his game can help him roll the clock back.

"I came up loving guys like Hank Aaron and Cal Ripken; guys that played into their 40s," Rodriguez said. "I feel really good right now, so I think avoiding the injury bug, I can play at a really high level for a long time."

The Yankees placed a massive bet on that, signing the slugger to a contract that runs through 2017. But injuries were a major problem in 2011, as the 36-year-old Rodriguez had arthroscopic surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his right knee, then sprained his left thumb in his first game back on Aug. 21.

Following advice from basketball star Kobe Bryant, Rodriguez flew to Germany in early December to have Orthokine treatment on his right knee and left shoulder performed by Dr. Peter Wehling. Rodriguez said that the knee procedure consisted of five injections of his own spun blood, administered over five consecutive days.

Rodriguez said he felt some level of improvement after the third day, and that he personally thanked Bryant for the tip last month. As he sat in a pavilion building outside Steinbrenner Field, the innovative treatment had the game's active home run leader (629) looking ahead to a healthy and focused season.

"[Bryant] was really adamant about how great the procedure was for him," Rodriguez said. "I know that he was hurting before, almost even thinking about retirement -- that's how much pain he was under. And then he said after he went to Germany and saw Dr. [Wehling], he felt like a 27-year-old again. ... If I can play as well as Kobe, we're in business."

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that he never felt Rodriguez fully recovered from his setbacks, and that the thumb was especially bothersome in affecting the third baseman's timing. Rodriguez said that, with rest, the thumb finally healed around Christmas.

"I imagine he's going to be the guy before he got hurt this year," Girardi said. "Obviously, only time will tell us. But that's what I believe, that he's going to be the guy from before he got hurt, and he was pretty good."

Though he'll have Rodriguez take some turns at designated hitter, Girardi said that he envisions Rodriguez as the Yankees' everyday third baseman and cleanup hitter. It's an assignment Rodriguez takes seriously.

"It's very important for me to be very productive in the middle of the order, but let's make one thing clear: winning trumps everything," Rodriguez said. "Whatever the manager wants to do is exactly what I'll do. With that said, I take enormous pride in hitting fourth.

"I think the combination of hitting lefty-righty-lefty always works in the middle; it brings huge dilemmas for the opposition. ... I'm going to make it as difficult as possible for Joe to take me out of that position."

Rodriguez is coming off a season in which he batted .276 with 16 homers and 62 RBIs, snapping a string of 13 straight years with at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs. The one aspect of his season that he was satisfied with came defensively.

"I don't train and prepare to be a DH. I'm definitely not a DH," Rodriguez said. "I don't see any slowing down defensively. I think it's important for our team to collect more wins and be more productive and have a longer lineup by me playing third base."

Rodriguez said that his new workout mantra has been "less is more," replacing "more is better." He added that his surgically repaired right hip earned another thumbs-up from Dr. Marc Philippon, the physician who performed the procedure in March 2009.

Accordingly, Rodriguez is emphasizing range of motion, flexibility and stability, looking to far exceed last year's total of 99 games played. Still, a reprise of Rodriguez's 2007 American League MVP season -- when he batted .314 with 56 homers and 156 RBIs -- figures to be a tall order.

"I haven't had a year like '07 in my whole career," Rodriguez said. "The thing is, you have to stay healthy; you have to avoid the injury bug. I'd like to go out and play north of 145, 150 games and let the chips fall where they may."

Rodriguez said that the business of the Yankees demands fewer excuses and more results. Over his next 162 games and beyond, he is hoping to be able to talk about the latter and less about the former.

"If I'm on the field -- whether I'm 50, 80 or 100 percent -- I have to produce and I have to help the team win," Rodriguez said. "Last year for me was a disappointing year, but there's a new year."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.