HOUSTON — Alex Rodriguez cruised into the clubhouse Wednesday night at Minute Maid Park a full 30 minutes after it opened, took a quick look at the starting lineup, which did not include his name for the fifth straight game, and headed to his locker to dress. It might have been an unhappy 41st birthday present, but it wasn’t unexpected, given his rapidly diminishing role.

“We’re winning games, the team’s playing well,” Rodriguez said when asked if he was disappointed. “I never thought about that. The team comes first.”

It was a decidedly different scenario a year ago in Texas when Rodriguez hit his major-league record sixth birthday home run against the Rangers. That came in the middle of a shocking resurgence in which he had 33 home runs and 86 RBIs while batting .250. The numbers this season are nine homers, 29 RBIs and .206 in only 227 at-bats.

“Last year was a magical season,” Rodriguez said, smiling at the memory. “We were in Texas, threw a team party in Texas, the whole team was there. Hit a home run, won the game. But every year’s different. I started the season last year on fire, and hopefully, I can finish (this) season on fire and just reverse it.”

If he’s going to catch fire at the plate, Joe Girardi has to give him the matches, the opportunity to get hot. That’s not happening. He’s riding Carlos Beltran game after game as the designated hitter and not even using Rodriguez in obvious situations against lefthanded pitchers.

Asked if he considered starting A-Rod against the Astros Wednesday night as a birthday gesture, Girardi said, “No, I mean, Carlos has played every day in this 13 days (since the All-Star break). I think it’s important that I DH him.”

Going into tap-dance mode on the delicate subject of whether he can find any use for a $20 million per year slugger, Girardi said he didn’t have a particular scenario in which he might use A-Rod but was sure one might arise. The Yankees are scheduled to face lefthanders Saturday and Sunday at Tampa Bay, so that’s the next likely opportunity to employ Rod riguez.

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“I think he’ll probably see them,” Girardi allowed.

Rodriguez admitted feeling old at 41, but at the same time, he said, “It’s humbling. When I first started to play this game, I never thought I’d be playing in the major leagues for so long, especially at 41.”

With a laugh, he added, “So, I’m representing all the senior citizens.”

Earlier this season, when Mark Teixeira was out with a knee injury, Girardi suggested Rodriguez might get a shot to play at first base. He took ground balls there for a while but hasn’t done so recently.

“He has the opportunity to take ground balls there every day,” Girardi said. “We give him that opportunity. He hasn’t played first base. Part of the reason he’s not DHing more is that he hasn’t hit like he did last year and the other thing is that I need to DH Carlos. We’ll continue to look at him. He knows the opportunity is there.”

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Lately, the “opportunity” Rodriguez has received has been restricted to picking up his hefty paycheck, which is reason enough to be happy.

“Not a lot of 41-year-olds get to wear a baseball uniform every day,” Rodriguez said. “I definitely feel grateful for my health, family, friends and just the opportunity to wear pinstripes.”