MILWAUKEE -- The Yankees never appeared to have a concrete plan for how Ichiro Suzuki would be utilized this season, with the arrivals of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran bumping the veteran star into a sort of floating reserve role.
There would be days when Ichiro would come off the bench as a pinch-hitter or be used to pinch-run, and manager Joe Girardi knew that he could count on Ichiro as a stellar defensive replacement. It was a puzzle how often, and when, Ichiro would be needed to start.
"It's something that obviously he's never done," Girardi said. "I don't know if you could ever go back to a time at any part of his career where he hasn't been an everyday player. Maybe in Little League where you don't play every day; that might have been the last time. He's been great."
The 40-year-old Ichiro, who started on Sunday in right field and batted seventh in the series finale against the Brewers, has forced his way into a crowded outfield mix that is also populated by Brett Gardner and Alfonso Soriano.
Ichiro entered play on Sunday with 10 hits in his last 25 at-bats (.400), batting .377 with a .400 on-base percentage and .453 slugging percentage in 29 games. To Girardi, that has stated the case for more playing time.
"His at-bats have been outstanding," Girardi said. "It's a nice weapon to have. He's done a really good job."
When Yanks need K, they turn to Betances
MILWAUKEE -- Dellin Betances is making his presence felt out of the Yankees' bullpen, offering manager Joe Girardi an electric option for tight situations when a strikeout is needed.
Betances entered a bases-loaded, one-out spot in New York's 5-4 loss to the Brewers on Saturday and escaped, overpowering Scooter Gennett with three pitches and striking out Carlos Gomez on four pitches to leave three men aboard in the sixth.
The hard-throwing 26-year-old said that outings like Saturday's have increased his confidence.
"I just feel like Joe Girardi using me in that situation, and certain situations I've gotten used, just shows the confidence they have in me," Betances said. "I believe in myself and I trust that if I'm out there throwing strikes, I can do the job. I just try to go out there and attack, that's my mentality."
Girardi suggested that his use of Betances may be comparable to how David Robertson was used in the recent past, called upon for high-leverage situations because of his good strikeout ratio.
"That's the one thing that he can do probably as good as anyone in our bullpen," Girardi said of Betances. "When you need a strikeout, he's a guy that you're really going to consider."
Betances has recorded 32 of his 52 outs this season via strikeout, including 16 of his last 22. He has also struck out multiple batters in 12 of his 13 appearances this season in which he has faced at least two batters.
Once a touted starting pitching prospect in the Yanks' system, Betances said that reducing his arsenal to two reliable pitches -- a high-octane fastball and a good curveball -- have helped simplify his approach.
"For me, just get strike one," Betances said. "If I get strike one, I can use my offspeed at any time. I'm confident with the way I'm throwing the ball and just being able to use both pitches. That's helped me a lot this year, especially my offspeed.
"Strike one is the most important; after that, if I get strike two, I'm definitely trying to go for the strikeout in that situation."
Pineda playing catch, but likely out until June
MILWAUKEE -- Michael Pineda has resumed playing catch, according to Yankees manager Joe Girardi, but it is unlikely that the right-hander will be able to rejoin the big league rotation until June.
Girardi said that Pineda played catch on Saturday at a distance of 60 feet, an important first step back from the Grade 1 strain of the teres major muscle in his upper back. Pineda was injured in an April 29 simulated game while serving a 10-game suspension.
At the time, the Yankees said that Pineda was expected to return in three to four weeks, but that may have been an optimistic estimate; the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw sustained a similar injury in a March 22 start and did not start again in the big leagues until May 6.
"We have a plan, and as long as he makes every step along the way, I don't know if he's quite six weeks, but we've got to get him back built up," Girardi said. "That's the problem with starting pitchers, you've got to build him up."
Pineda's season had been off to a good start. He compiled a 1.00 ERA through his first three starts, winning twice, before he was ejected for slathering pine tar -- an illegal substance -- on his neck during an April 23 start against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
• Yankees right-hander Shawn Kelley (stiff lower back) played catch on Sunday and reported no issues. He is considered to be available in New York's bullpen.
• On this date in 1903, Highlanders first baseman John Ganzel hit the first home run in franchise history, a fifth-inning inside-the-park homer off Tigers pitcher George Mullin.