Kelly Johnson gets start at third base before injuring hand

Kelly Johnson signed with the Yankees in the offseason with the idea that he could be the everyday third baseman, or close to it. But a rookie named Yangervis Solarte emerged in the spring and forced the Yankees to give him the job, a performance that carried into the season.

Solarte, however, has cooled significantly as he entered Thursday in an 0-for-22 slide. Johnson, who started at third, had five hits in his last four games.

Johnson, signed to a one-year, $3-million deal, never has complained publicly about a lack of playing time. Still, players need to play to get out of slumps and the 32-year-old Johnson played sporadically at best, especially after Mark Teixeira came back from his injuries.

"When you've got guys that are swinging the bat as well as Solarte or whoever, if you're . . . winning games, you're not going to be that upset," said Johnson, hitting .235 with four homers and 15 RBIs. "But at the same time, playing always helps to find a groove. It's hard to find a groove when you're not playing a lot."

Solarte's average has dipped to .270, but he has not been supplanted by Johnson. Joe Girardi said the veteran will get more time.

Johnson was forced to leave last night's game when he injured his left hand attempting to bunt in the sixth inning.

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"We know Kelly's a good player. We've said all along he's going to help us, and that's what he's doing right now."

No rush on Beltran

Don't expect Carlos Beltran, who has played exclusively at designated hitter since coming off the DL, to test the bone spur in his right elbow in the field any time soon. Beltran has been playing catch.

"I can't really give you a guess," Girardi said. "We're trying to lengthen him out a little bit, where he's throwing farther, but we don't really have a date."

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