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07/25/12 9:30 PM ET

Recovery under way, A-Rod eyes 'strong' return

SEATTLE -- Alex Rodriguez managed to crack a smile as he discussed his fractured left hand, which represented a sliver of progress for the Yankees' third baseman.

Rodriguez had seemed to be in a daze after being hit on the hand by an errant Felix Hernandez changeup on Tuesday, but after being fitted for a splint on Wednesday, Rodriguez vowed that he will return to the lineup as a force.

Rodriguez is scheduled to see team physician Christopher Ahmad on Thursday in New York and could miss at least four weeks. The Yankees have not announced an official timetable for his return.

"I've got to talk to Ahmad, but I certainly expect to come back and come back strong," Rodriguez said. "The one good thing here is that we play through the end of October."

Rodriguez added that the disappointment of his injury has been "hard to put into words." Rodriguez, who will turn 37 on Friday, has now landed on the disabled list at least once each season since 2008.

Improving Swisher targets Friday's lineup

SEATTLE -- Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher is hoping that manager Joe Girardi will clear him to return to the lineup on Friday, when the team hosts the Red Sox for the opener of a three-game series. And if not?

"We're going to fist-fight," Swisher said, with a laugh. "I feel good. I've done everything they've told me to do."

Swisher has been sidelined since Friday in Oakland by a mild strain of his left hip flexor, and while Girardi has been more conservative with the switch-hitter's timetable, Swisher reported no problems after running in the outfield at Safeco Field on Wednesday.

He also took batting-practice swings in the cage and will do so again with hitting coach Kevin Long on Thursday, as well as run the bases at Yankee Stadium.

"I'll be able to take as many swings as I want and be able to do everything," Swisher said. "I'm excited."

Yanks lead off with Ichiro, no stranger to spot

SEATTLE -- Ichiro Suzuki's third game in a Yankees uniform saw him return to a more familiar spot in the batting order, as the recently acquired outfielder was inserted as the leadoff hitter for Wednesday's series finale against the Mariners.

Ichiro had batted eighth in his first two games for New York following Monday's trade, and Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he wanted to try something different as the club wrapped up its seven-game West Coast road trip.

"He's been there a lot," Girardi said. "We moved Curtis [Granderson] to the fifth spot, an RBI position. We just thought we'd give this a shot and see how it works out."

Girardi wouldn't commit to anything long term with Ichiro at the top of the lineup, but he is open to shuffling his lineup now that the Yankees know they will be without third baseman Alex Rodriguez for an extended period of time.

"I prepare myself to play, wherever that might be," Ichiro said through a translator. "But I'm ready. That's what I prepare my game for, so I'm ready for that."

Rodriguez was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Wednesday with a non-displaced fracture in his left hand, and the Yankees recalled infielder Ramiro Pena from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Derek Jeter, who had served as the Yankees' regular leadoff hitter and was dropped to the No. 2 spot, had no trouble adjusting, homering off Hisashi Iwakuma in the top of the first inning. Girardi said he spoke to both Ichiro and Jeter late on Tuesday to tell them of his plan. The skipper said he didn't want to try Ichiro as the No. 2 hitter, because that would have moved Mark Teixeira to third and Robinson Cano to fourth.

"You're trying to stay away from really stacking too many left-handers together, is what I'm trying to do," Girardi said.

Ichiro's on-base percentage was just .290 entering play on Wednesday; the outfielder had a .262 batting average with four homers and 28 RBIs in 97 combined games between Seattle and New York. He was 2-for-7 with a double and a stolen base in his first two Yankees games.

"He knows how to do it; he's been successful at it," Girardi said. "He's swung the bat well since we've had him here, and we expect it to continue."

As A-Rod heals, keeping Chavez healthy key

SEATTLE -- Eric Chavez has proved to be a useful piece backing up at the corner-infield spots for the Yankees, but in the wake of third baseman Alex Rodriguez's broken left hand, the veteran figures to see an increase in playing time.

Chavez started at third base for the Yankees on Wednesday as they completed a three-game series with the Mariners at Safeco Field, and Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he is comfortable writing the 34-year-old's name in the lineup more regularly.

"I think he does a tremendous job, and his offense has been good for us," Girardi said. "But I think you have to manage his health as well. I'll check with him every day, and hopefully we'll see enough left-handers that you can kind of break up all the right-handers in a row."

The Yankees also have utility man Jayson Nix on the roster and recalled infielder Ramiro Pena from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Wednesday to add flexibility, but Girardi said he mostly foresees a platoon of Chavez and Nix carrying the position.

Chavez entered play on Wednesday batting .269 with eight homers and 20 RBIs in 64 games. Girardi said that he must keep close tabs on Chavez, who has struggled with injuries in recent years after starring at the hot corner with the Athletics.

"You just have to be smart about it and know that he's had some ailments that he's had to deal with over his career," Girardi said. "He's had a back issue, a shoulder issue; you just have to watch him. I told him, 'If you feel something, you have to let me know. Let's not get to a point where you really break down and we lose you for a substantial amount of time.'"

Nothing but fond memories of Matsui from Yanks

SEATTLE -- As the news spread that Hideki Matsui has been designated for assignment by the Tampa Bay Rays, the Yankees expressed their fondness and appreciation for the former World Series Most Valuable Player's career and contributions.

"He obviously played a long time here at the Yankees," Ichiro Suzuki said through an interpreter. "Obviously, he had to play well for a long time and was consistent, but not just as a player.

"I know that as a human being and as a person, you have to be a good person to last with the Yankees that long. That's really what I think highly of him for, just the consistency and the fact that he was able to be here for such a long time. That tells that he's a great player and a good person."

Matsui, 38, hit just .147 with two homers and seven RBIs in 34 games for Tampa Bay. After coming to the Major Leagues from Japan in 2003, Matsui slugged 175 home runs over his 10 seasons. He played seven of them with the Yankees before moving on to the Angels, Athletics and Rays after winning the 2009 World Series with New York.

"Great player. Great professional. Great teammate," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "MVP of the World Series. Clutch hitter. Just an outstanding player."

While Ichiro showcased exciting speed and an outstanding hitting approach upon his 2001 arrival with the Mariners, Girardi said that Matsui's debut in pinstripes proved that Japanese baseball can also produce power hitters on a level equal to the big leagues.

"They're complete players, and they can do different things," Girardi said. "It's not necessarily a speed game over there. They do have their power hitters. I think what Matsui did and where he accomplished it was special. He opened the door, in a sense. You can do it anywhere. If you can play, you can play, no matter where you go."

Bombers bits

• Yankees right-hander Joba Chamberlain is scheduled to pitch on Wednesday for Class A Advanced Tampa, marking his first back-to-back appearances. Chamberlain is expected to fly to New York after the outing and will throw a bullpen session at Yankee Stadium in front of team staff, though it is not believed that he is ready to be activated. His 30-day Minor League rehab assignment runs through Aug. 6.

• Infielder Eduardo Nunez is scheduled to be promoted to Triple-A on Wednesday. He had been playing with the Gulf Coast Yankees and for Tampa after suffering a right thumb injury in May.

• Yankees first-base coach Mick Kelleher celebrated his 65th birthday on Wednesday. Kelleher was born and raised in Seattle.

• On this date in 1998, the Yankees dedicated a plaque in Yankee Stadium's Monument Park to honor Mel Allen, the "Voice of the Yankees" from 1939-64.

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.