CHARLESTON, S.C. — Alex Rodriguez called his season's debut a success, even if the results Tuesday night didn't bear that out.
Rodriguez played his first game since a miserable October and went hitless in two at-bats for the Charleston RiverDogs. In his first game since left hip surgery in January, Rodriguez grounded into a double play in his first time up then struck out looking against 23-year-old Williams Perez to end the third before coming out for the night.
For Rodriguez, the individual outcome wasn't important after waiting nine months to play.
"I'm just happy to be back playing," he said. "I feel like a kid again."
A rusty, soon-to-be 38-year-old kid, though.
Rodriguez had to charge hard on the game's first play when Rome center fielder Kyle Wren, the son of Atlanta Braves general manager Frank Wren, bunted down the third base line. Rodriguez fielded it bare handed, but couldn't catch Wren at first on the infield hit.
"That's a 'Welcome back' for me," Rodriguez said with a smile. "That was a heck of a bunt."
Rodriguez earlier said he'd need all 20 days of rehabilitation games to prepare for his return to the New York Yankees and that assessment didn't change after his first game.
"It's a slow progression," Rodriguez said. "Three innings is not a heck of a lot. Two at-bats is not much. It almost feels like March 1 in spring training and that's basically the approach."
He said a benchmark would come tomorrow morning when he sees how his body feels after this game. Rodriguez still planned to play Wednesday night before working out on Thursday.
"Look, I am as curious as you guys are to see how I am going to react. It's been a while since I was in competition," he said before the game.
Rome shortstop Jose Peraza also bunted down the third base line in the second inning, but Rodriguez was too far back to make a play. The RiverDogs finished a 4-2 victory over Rome about 90 minutes after Rodriguez left the game.
The three-time AL MVP has been working out at the Yankees' minor league complex in Tampa, Fla., since May.
He looked healthy and enthusiastic to begin his season. His swing in the batting cage was the same simple flick that's helped him to 647 career home runs. He took grounders at third next to Yankees teammate Eduardo Nunez, who's recovering from a left oblique strain. Nunez played shortstop and went 2 for 3.
Nunez was winded as he sat in front of his locker. He played four innings before coming out. "The oblique is OK. The timing is coming. It'll be a couple more games," he said.
Rodriguez and Nunez enjoyed lunch Tuesday before arriving at the ballpark.
"It's my first time" in South Carolina, Rodriguez said. "Great Southern hospitality so far."
Players from the RiverDogs and the Rome Braves lined the dugouts to watch Rodriguez work. It's the third straight season Rodriguez has spent time in the minors coming back from injuries.
Rodriguez would not comment about Major League Baseball's investigation into the now-closed Biogenesis of America anti-aging clinic.
Rodriguez looked smooth in the field during warm-ups, grabbing everything hit his way. His throws to first were strong and on target. When he was done with grounders, Rodriguez signed autographs for fans gathered next to the RiverDogs dugout.
"Good luck to you, Alex," said Charleston resident Blanche Lloyd after getting a signed baseball.
There were 8,255 who turned out at Riley Park, less than 200 from the record attendance of 8,426 set on opening night 2007.
Rodriguez and Nunez were in Charleston with Pat Roessler, the Yankees director of player development based in Tampa.
A-Rod hopes he can start having a positive impact on the Yankees after last year's disappointing season and his benching during the American League Championship Series.
"I've got to tell you," Rodriguez said at Riley Park. "I'm really, really excited. This probably has to be the hardest injury I've tried to overcome. It has to be the longest."