TAMPA, Fla. - Alex Rodriguez has given Joe Girardi the go-ahead to play him in the field. For now, though, Girardi is holding off putting him there. And so, for Friday night's game against the Pirates at Steinbrenner Field, A-Rod made his second exhibition start at designated hitter.

He went 0-for-2 with a walk in the Yankees' 3-1 loss to the Pirates, a game in which Carlos Beltran made his debut. Beltran, who experienced a career-worst season in 2014, mostly because of a bone spur in his right elbow, started in rightfield and also went 0-for-2 with a walk.

"Right now I think his at-bats are the most important thing," Girardi said of Rodriguez earlier in the day. "I think sometimes if you want to leave him in a little longer, it's easier to do it as DH."

Girardi used A-Rod's debut against the Phillies on Wednesday, when he went 1-for-2 with a walk, as an example. "The other day we were through five innings and everyone only got two at-bats," he said. "He was the one guy I left in a little bit longer [because he was the DH]."

Girardi and Rodriguez have said that after not playing in a big-league game in 1½ years, the key to his having any chance of regaining his timing is at-bats, and plenty of them.

A-Rod, of course, will play in the field in spring training. Girardi said "it's possible'' that he will play third base as soon as Sunday, assuming there are no setbacks.

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So far, there have been none.

"He says he's good," Girardi said of conversations with the 39-year-old regarding how he feels physically. "The fact when I asked him, 'What about third base?' he said, 'I'm ready, whatever you want.' [That] tells me he's feeling pretty good."

In his first at-bat Friday night, Rodriguez fell behind Pirates lefthander Jeff Locke 0-and-2 before working a walk. With one out and one on in the fourth, he hit a soft liner to short against lefty Charlie Leesman. He was called out on strikes against righty Blake Wood to start the seventh.

Rodriguez joked about being overpowered by Wood. "The last at-bat, I don't think I saw one of those pitches. I was hoping one of them was a ball,'' he said. "But I actually feel pretty good. I'm seeing the ball well, the ones that I am seeing. So far, so good.''

Girardi said Rodriguez and other veteran players won't be evaluated until at least three and even four weeks into spring training. What does he look for until then?

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"Just improvement in at-bats, staying healthy," he said. "How they're responding if they're going back-to-back. You have to play them into the type of shape where they're used to going back-to-back-to-back-to-back. Those are the things you watch."

Said Rodriguez, "My focus right now is really just to get as many at-bats as possible. Timing is everything right now . . . All I'm looking to do right now is really just square the ball and start hitting the ball with good contact. I think like any other spring, hopefully in week 4, week 5, I start driving the ball. That's par for the course right now. You don't want to be locked in March 6.''

Beltran, who will turn 38 in April, is coming off a year in which he hit .233 with a .301 on-base percentage, 15 homers and 49 RBIs in 109 games. The Yankees have brought him along slowly but believe he's healthy.

Beltran, who struck out looking, struck out swinging and walked, said he's never felt better.

"The good thing is I'm pain- free,'' he said. "Now it's time to get better and put good at-bats together during spring training. Honestly, I'm not concerned at all [about the elbow] . . . Thank God I wake up every day feeling good, so I have no concerns. Now it's just time to get the timing and that's it.''

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Beltran is convinced that he and the Yankees will have bounce-back seasons.

"It was tough as a team," he said of 2014. "There were a lot of injuries, a lot of key guys got hurt, and when that happens, it's tough to play good baseball. We lost a lot of guys we need for us as a team to be successful. The good thing about this year is everybody looks healthy."

Beltran suffered the elbow injury May 12 while swinging in the cage at the Stadium. He could have -- and, in retrospect, some thought he should have -- had surgery in June or July. But he continued to play.

Or tried to.

"I'm a gamer, what can I say?" Beltran said. "I love to play."