MINNEAPOLIS - Yangervis Solarte, a rookie few had heard of when spring training got underway in February, carried the Yankees much of the first 11/2 months of the season. Now he could sink back into anonymity.

The 26-year-old infielder, who forced the Yankees to put him on their Opening Day roster with an otherworldly performance in spring training, was demoted Thursday morning because of a slump that showed no signs of dissipating.

Zelous Wheeler, who played second, third, shortstop and rightfield while excelling for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, was called up and started at third Thursday night in his major-league debut. In his second at-bat, the 5-10, 220-pounder registered his first hit, a towering solo homer on a 3-and-1 pitch from Phil Hughes. He singled and scored in the seventh.

"I've been waiting for this my whole life," Wheeler, 27, who hit .299 with a .367 on-base percentage, seven homers and 31 RBIs with Scranton, said before the game. "I've been working hard and never gave up and my time is here."

Solarte was hitting .336 on May 14, but he dropped to .260 Wednesday. In his last 14 games, he was 3-for-41 with a .298 OPS.

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Extra bases

Mark Teixeira, who missed Wednesday's game after having fluid drained from his right knee, was back in the lineup. "It feels better," he said. "Still a little bit [sore] but nothing crazy." . . . Leftfielder Brett Gardner tagged out Chris Parmelee to end a first-inning rundown after Parmelee's RBI double off the rightfield wall. The play went 9-4-2-5-7. Centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury also was available to become part of the rundown if necessary . . . MLB announced that Alfredo Aceves, who posted a 6.52 ERA in 10 games with the Yankees before being sent back to Scranton, received a 50-game suspension without pay after "a second positive test for a drug of abuse in violation of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program." . . . The Yankees shelled out nearly $14 million on international players this week, including a reported $3.2 million on Dermis Garcia, a 16-year-old shortstop from the Dominican Republic.