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Replacements Ichiro Suzuki, Yangervis Solarte help Yankees to first victory

Yankees' Yangervis Solarte, right, knock arms with teammate

Yankees' Yangervis Solarte, right, knock arms with teammate Alfonso Soriano after scoring from third base on a Carlos Beltran bases-loaded sacrifice fly against the Houston Astros in the third inning of a baseball game on Thursday, April 3, 2014, in Houston. Credit: AP / Pat Sullivan

HOUSTON -- It had the appearance of "shaking up the lineup," but no manager pushes that button two games into the season.

Still, it was quite a different group Joe Girardi sent out Thursday night in the series finale against the Astros and lefthander Brett Oberholtzer, including putting centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury on the bench.

The replacements didn't play because of injuries, Girardi said, or because the Yankees had scored only three runs in losing their first two games. It was simply a matter of resting regulars in a season-opening stretch of 13 games. And it all looked like a stroke of genius.

Two of the replacements, Ichiro Suzuki and Yangervis Solarte, produced significantly in a 4-2 victory over the Astros at Minute Maid Park, allowing the Yankees to avoid a sweep before leaving town for Toronto.

Ichiro, starting in rightfield in his first action of the season, went 2-for-4 with two runs. The star, however, was Solarte, a rookie switch hitter who started at third in place of Kelly Johnson.

Solarte, aided by some shoddy Astros fielding on a pop-up that landed between three players, went 3-for-3 with a walk, two runs and an RBI in his first big-league start. "Quite a night," Girardi said. "His at-bats were really good. He seemed to be on the ball all night long."

Much as he was in spring training, when he earned a spot after hitting .429 with a .489 OBP.

"I've been waiting a long time for this," Solarte said through a translator. "I thank God for everything, especially for the opportunity the Yankees have given me. I hope to continue working hard, which is the main thing. I've worked very hard to be here."

Girardi did not discount the possibility that Solarte will get more opportunities, though he first cautioned against "jumping to conclusions" based on one night.

Still . . .

"The kid's swinging the bat well, there's no doubt about it," Girardi said.

Despite allowing five walks, Ivan Nova gave up only two runs in 52/3 innings, helped by four double plays in the first five innings.

The bridge to David Robertson was steady as Adam Warren pitched 11/3 scoreless innings and Shawn Kelley added a perfect eighth before Robertson fired a perfect ninth. It was his first save opportunity as Mariano Rivera's heir and his ninth career save.

Nova pitched a brutal first inning but somehow allowed only one run. Dexter Fowler, who went 6-for-12 in the series, singled and eventually scored to make it 1-0. Nova got out of a bases-loaded jam by inducing his first double-play ball of the night, a 4-6-3 off the bat of Matt Krauss.

"I made some good pitches when I needed to," Nova said.

With one out in the third, Ichiro singled to right-center, went to third when Solarte sent a 1-and-2 pitch into center for his first career hit and scored on Brett Gardner's single to right to tie it at 1-1.

Derek Jeter walked to load the bases and Carlos Beltran fell behind 0-and-2 before driving a sacrifice fly to the track in left-center to give the Yankees their first lead of the series, 2-1.

In the fifth, Solarte flared a one-out double to short left-center and Jeter came through with his first RBI of the season, lining a two-out single to right to make it 3-1. It was his 3,318th hit, putting him one behind Paul Molitor for eighth on the all-time list.

Jonathan Villar doubled and scored on Fowler's single in the bottom of the fifth but the Yankees made it 4-2 in the seventh. Ichiro doubled with two outs and hustled home when Solarte's pop-up fell untouched midway between the mound and the plate between catcher Carlos Corporan, pitcher Brad Peacock and third baseman Matt Dominguez. It landed closest to Corporan as Peacock backed off at the last moment.

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