HOUSTON -- It raised a few eyebrows when Jacoby Ellsbury's name did not appear in the third lineup of the season, but manager Joe Girardi is giving his center fielder a scheduled day off as a nod to his abbreviated spring.
A sore right calf bothered Ellsbury during the last two weeks of camp. Ellsbury feels fine after two games of running around the outfield, even stealing a base on Wednesday, but the Yankees want to make sure it stays that way.
"Ells didn't play a lot the last couple of weeks of Spring Training," Girardi said. "I'm going to guard against overplaying him early."
Brett Gardner moved to center field, with Alfonso Soriano taking over duties in left field and Ichiro Suzuki playing his first game of the season in right field.
"Joe just let me know last night, but I'll be available, ready to go," Ellsbury said. "He let me know it was going to be either tomorrow or today, so after [Wednesday's] game, I let him know I was good to go. I'll be ready if I need to come into the game at some point today."
Girardi said that the travel schedule factored into the decision; the Yankees expect to get settled in Toronto after 5 a.m. ET on Friday, so Girardi had planned to sit Ellsbury for either the third or fourth game.
Brian McCann was also out of the lineup on Thursday against Astros left-hander Brett Oberholtzer, but he is slated to catch Masahiro Tanaka on Friday in Toronto.
Girardi also elected to play switch-hitting rookie Yangervis Solarte at third base over left-handed-hitting Kelly Johnson, saying that Johnson is scheduled to play all three days against right-handed starters at Rogers Centre.
"We're just kind of mixing up," Girardi said. "We've got a tough schedule these first couple of weeks; 13 days out of the get-go."
Girardi hinted that Derek Jeter would get a day off during the Toronto series, possibly on Friday. Mark Teixeira will also rest a day in Toronto, and the plan is to have McCann be the designated hitter on Saturday.
"We're two games in and we're not where we want to be, but you can't say, 'We've got to keep running them out there,'" Girardi said. "If you end up getting them hurt and you end up missing them [for] three weeks, that's really not good for us. With the schedule that we've got, I have to be a little bit proactive with these guys until we get through these 13 days."
Core Four to take part in first pitches
HOUSTON -- The Yankees' plans for their home opener on Monday will include a reunion of the "Core Four": Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada.
Prior to the 1:05 p.m. ET game against the Orioles, Pettitte and Rivera will throw the Opening Day ceremonial first pitches to Jeter and Posada.
Pettitte and Rivera will become the 13th and 14th former Yankees to receive the Opening Day honor; Posada threw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the 2012 home opener.
Gates will open at 11 a.m.; festivities are slated to begin at approximately 12:30 p.m. with the introduction of both teams. The Yankees are asking fans to budget ample time when planning their trip to the Stadium and urging the use of public transportation.
Kelli O'Hara, a Tony nominee and the co-star of the Broadway musical "The Bridges of Madison County," will sing the national anthem. In addition, a large American flag will be unfurled by 75 West Point cadets.
During the seventh-inning stretch, James Moye of the Broadway hit "Bullets Over Broadway" will perform "God Bless America."
Solarte gets first Major League start
HOUSTON -- Yangervis Solarte was getting some early work in the batting cages on Thursday when he was told that his name was going into the lineup, batting ninth and playing third base.
Solarte was thrilled to make his Major League debut in the Yankees' 3-1 loss to the Astros on Wednesday, going 0-for-2, and even more excited to get his first big league starting assignment.
Solarte wasted no time, connecting for a single off Houston starter Brett Oberholtzer in his first at-bat, and going on to have a 3-for-3 performance.
Before Thursday's game, Solarte carried a copy of the lineup card around the visitors' clubhouse at Minute Maid Park, requesting signatures from each member of the team.
"I'm happy for that opportunity," Solarte said. "I've been waiting for that for a long time, to be at the plate my first game, and the one that I'm starting. I'm really, really happy."
Solarte, 26, was born in Venezuela and played six seasons in the Twins organization beginning in 2006 before latching on with the Rangers, and he played 263 games over the past two seasons with Texas' Triple-A Round Rock affiliate.
Solarte's wife, Juliet, is in New York and just purchased a MLB.TV package to watch the Yankees' games. His family and friends were able to see his first two at-bats on Wednesday and will surely be watching on Thursday.
"Everybody yesterday saw the TV. They were like, 'Whoa!'" Solarte said. "They were happy. The first time in the big leagues with the Yankees. Wow."
Tanaka has made an impression on McCann
HOUSTON -- Catcher Brian McCann expects there to be an electric atmosphere when right-hander Masahiro Tanaka takes the mound for his first big league start on Friday at Rogers Centre, but he has been impressed by Tanaka's cool demeanor so far.
"From the first time you meet him, he carries himself very professionally," McCann said. "He carries himself [with the attitude] that he's been there and done that. He came in to camp, he fit right in, and he put up zeroes."
Tanaka signed a seven-year, $155 million contract with the Yankees this past offseason and enjoyed a successful first Spring Training. He went 2-0 with a 2.14 ERA in five Grapefruit League games (three starts), allowing 15 hits in 21 innings with three walks and 26 strikeouts.
After his contract was official, McCann was sent an iPad by the Yankees so that he could review video of Tanaka's starts for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles last season, when he went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA.
McCann was impressed by Tanaka's splitter, which has been rated as world-class, but said that Tanaka has many more useful choices in his repertoire.
"He's got more than just the splitter," McCann said. "He can attack inside-outside with his fastball, go up and down, and I'm very impressed with his cutter and his slider as well.
"Guys that can throw any pitch in any count, with the stuff he's got -- definitely fun to catch."