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Does A-Rod have anything left? Time will tell

Tuesday - 8/6/2013, 5:36pm  ET

New York Yankees' Ale Rodriguez gets a hit in his first at bat against the Chicago White Sox in the first inning in a baseball game at US Cellular Field in Chicago on Monday, Aug., 5, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Cherney)

AP Sports Writer

NEW YORK (AP) -- Alex Rodriguez is allowed to play. Now we'll find out if he can anymore.

Coming off his second hip surgery in four years, the 38-year-old third baseman finally made his season debut Monday night for the New York Yankees -- hours after he was suspended through 2014 by Major League Baseball as part of the Biogenesis drug investigation.

The embattled slugger promised to appeal his penalty, which probably keeps him in pinstripes for the rest of this year. After that, who knows if he'll ever take the field again?

So he's not banned yet, but maybe he's all but finished. At least as A-Rod the All-Star.

"I just hope that there's a happy ending there somewhere," he said.

Time will tell.

Time, and a steady dose of big league pitching. Time, and the daily grind of a major league schedule. Time, and the way his broken-down body rebounds after sliding into second or diving for a grounder.

Four months on the sidelines is a long stretch for any player, especially one so late in his career. Not to mention, Rodriguez wasn't exactly tearing it up before his latest injury.

He went 3 for 25 (.120) without an RBI in the 2012 playoffs and wound up getting benched. Against right-handers, he was 0 for 18 with 12 strikeouts.

"The last time I was on the field it wasn't pretty," Rodriguez said. "I was horrific."

The three-time MVP blooped a single to left field in his first at-bat of the season Monday night, but wasn't much help otherwise. Booed loudly all night in Chicago, he went 1 for 4 with two flyouts and took a called third strike his final time up.

He made all his plays in the field, but acknowledged feeling rusty. His bat looked a little slow, though he said he felt pretty good up there.

Meanwhile, the last-place White Sox snapped a 10-game losing streak with an 8-1 victory over New York.

"It's been crazy, but from this point on I'm going to do my very best to focus on baseball," said Rodriguez, who strained his quadriceps during a minor league rehab stint, delaying his return for two weeks. "It's good to get the first one behind me."

Fading fast in a crowded playoff chase, the aging Yankees are desperate for power. Their third basemen have been among the most inept in the majors all season. They need a genuine boost right now -- not a question mark in the middle of the lineup.

On the same day Rodriguez was suspended, shortstop Derek Jeter went back on the disabled list with a strained right calf, the latest leg injury in his lost season. Old reliable Andy Pettitte got rocked and couldn't make it through the third inning.

It won't be easy for A-Rod, either.

Boos and "Steroids!" chants are sure to follow wherever he goes, even at home in the Bronx. And it will take an awful lot of production to justify his $28 million salary this season.

"It's not the first time he's gotten a bad reaction. It's not surprising," Jeter said after Monday's game. "I'm sure he's happy to be out there, finally."

Just last Friday, Rodriguez hinted that the Yankees did not want him back and were trying to avoid paying him the $94.5 million they still owe him through 2017. The team responded Monday with a statement:

"We are compelled to address certain reckless and false allegations concerning the Yankees' role in this matter," the club said. "The New York Yankees in no way instituted and/or assisted MLB in the direction of this investigation; or used the investigation as an attempt to avoid its responsibilities under a player contract; or did its medical staff fail to provide the appropriate standard of care to Alex Rodriguez."

During a news conference at U.S. Cellular Field, Rodriguez said general manager Brian Cashman had welcomed him back. Earlier this season, Cashman cursed while saying Rodriguez should "shut ... up."

The awkward and ongoing saga has become a New York soap opera, daily fodder for the city tabloids.

"If I'm productive, I think they want me back," Rodriguez said Monday, drawing laughs.

He needs 13 home runs to tie Willie Mays (660) for fourth place on the career list, a milestone that would earn Rodriguez a $6 million bonus. He needs 98 hits to reach 3,000. Even so, election to the Hall of Fame might be a long shot.

Not so long ago, those achievements seemed such a certainty.

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