SARASOTA, Fla. -- It was no coincidence that Yonder Alonso got his first start of spring vs. the Yankees on Sunday, especially since some guy named Alex Rodriguez was in New York's starting lineup.

Alonso is close friends and a protégé of Rodriguez, a fellow resident of Miami. They also worked out together in the offseason.

"That's one reason I'm playing Yonder today," Reds manager Dusty Baker said before the game. "He's DHing, so A-Rod can see him play."

"It's going to be nice. I can't wait," Alonso said before the game.

Rodriguez, along with Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano, were among the regular Yankees starting before departing for the World Baseball Classic.

Alonso fared OK, as he went 1-for-2 with a second-inning leadoff double to left-center field in the Reds' 13-11 win over the Yankees. It was his only hit in five spring at-bats over two games.

The Reds' first-round Draft pick in 2008, the 21-year-old Alonso speaks frequently on the phone with Rodriguez -- even during his idol's high-profile steroid scandal.

"He taught me his work ethic, and what work is all about and what work can do for you and how you can become a good player," said Alonso, who starred at the University of Miami.

Because he signed a five-year, $4.55 million Major League contract, with a $2 million signing bonus, Alonso's first Spring Training is in big league camp.

"This is the best experience of my playing career," he said.

Alonso's first game on Thursday vs. the Twins included a mishap when the first baseman flubbed a slow roller up the line for a two-out error that scored a run. On the next play, a grand slam turned it into a five-run mistake.

"It was a squibber, and that thing was spinning," Alonso said. "That's a really tough play, because it can go anywhere. You have to more or less go after it. I kind of stayed back a little on it and let it play me instead of me playing it. It happens. You have to move on."

All indications are that Alonso will begin this season at Double-A Carolina. He fared well against that caliber of competition in the Hawaii Winter Baseball League, and he should get some more exposure at first base while starter Joey Votto is playing for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic.

"Maybe with Joey leaving, I will get to play a little more. It will be fun," Alonso said. "I'm working on everything, trying to improve and become a better player overall."