NEW YORK -- Ichiro Suzuki's torrid stretch prompted a move from the bottom third of the batting order to the second spot in the lineup for the second consecutive day Sunday, with manager Joe Girardi pointing to the outfielder's hot stretch and speed as the reasons for the move.

Ichiro went 14-for-20 with seven runs, five RBIs, three doubles, two home runs and five stolen bases in the five games entering Sunday's series finale against Oakland, lifting his average to .284, its highest mark since May 22, when he was still a member of the Mariners.

"He is locked in right now and playing extremely well," Girardi said.

Ichiro is hitting .335 (59-for-176) in 56 games as a Yankee after his average dipped below .300 for the previous year and a half for the first time in Seattle. The Yankees' July acquisition of the 10-time All-Star was contingent on Ichiro agreeing to giving up his usual spot atop the order and hitting mostly out of the eight-hole for the Yankees, along with platooning in the outfield.

Now, Girardi said he would even consider hitting Ichiro leadoff, but went with the second spot because Derek Jeter has consistently hit atop the Yankees' order this season. Nick Swisher hit second of late when Ichiro was at the bottom of the order, but Girardi moved him to the fifth spot, using Swisher's switch-hitting bat to break up left-handed hitters Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson.

"[Ichiro is] just swinging the bat so well and gives you a real speed element up there," Girardi said. "Swish has been really good with moving him around this year. He's kind of one of our wild cards in breaking up all of our lefties, so I had to move him around a little bit without [Mark Teixeira] being here."

Girardi says No. 1 seed is goal, but not crucial

NEW YORK -- While manager Joe Girardi acknowledged it is always a goal to earn the No. 1 seed in the American League entering the playoffs, he said it is no more important this year with the new playoff format, which he believes places added importance on winning the division, not the top seed.

The No. 1 seed will play the winner of a one-game wildcard playoff game, which would potentially hinder the winner's ability to set up its rotation for the Division Series, but Girardi said that is impossible to predict. Also, the top seeds in the Division Series will play their first two games on the road, before returning home for the final three.

"To me, that's kind of strange," Girardi said, "but you have to deal with it."

Yanks hope Teixeira will return on road trip

NEW YORK -- First baseman Mark Teixeira refuses to place a timeline on when he might return from a Grade 1 strain in his left calf, but manager Joe Girardi gave the first hint at what the Yankees are expecting after Sunday's 5-4 loss to Oakland.

Girardi said he is hopeful Teixeira will join the Yankees on their seven-game road trip to Minnesota and Toronto, with the slugger leaving for Tampa, Fla., earlier in the day to increase his involvement in baseball activities and appear in instructional league games.

Sunday marked the 13th consecutive game Teixeira missed and 23rd overall since he first strained his calf running the bases on Aug. 27 against the Blue Jays. He missed 10 games the first time, and briefly returned against the Orioles on Sept. 8, when he aggravated it, prompting a more cautious approach and gradual increasing of his workload.

"It really all depends on what happens in Florida and how well it goes," Girardi said. "He's had more time this time than the last time. He feels pretty good. I hope [Teixeira joins the team on the road]."

Bombers bits

• Outfielder Brett Gardner will travel with the Yankees on their seven-game road trip beginning Monday in Minnesota, but he remains on the disabled list and Girardi would not say when the Yankees plan to activate him for use in pinch-running situations.

• Girardi did not expect relievers Derek Lowe and Freddy Garcia to be available out of the bullpen Sunday at Yankee Stadium after each provided length in Saturday's 10-9 win in 14 innings. Lowe threw 2 2/3 innings, while Garcia went three-plus.

• Yankees rookies will travel in style Sunday, with the team celebrating the annual rookie dress-up day, sending the rookies to Minnesota in "Spaceballs" inspired "Star Wars" gear and oversized Darth Vader helmets.