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Yangervis Solarte proving to be key asset for Yankees

Yangervis Solarte reacts after his fourth-inning RBI single

Yangervis Solarte reacts after his fourth-inning RBI single against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium on Monday, April 7, 2014. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Yankees have liked everything they have learned about Yangervis Solarte since he showed up in spring training as a non-roster invitee. And on Sunday night, they got to see his toughness in a time of crisis.

The Yankees already were down three injured players and had no healthy bench players when Solarte was tagged in the groin area by Mike Napoli in the sixth inning on a bang-bang play at first base.

Solarte went down in pain. At first it appeared he had turned an ankle. But when the true nature of his injury was revealed, the rookie got (snickering) sympathy from his teammates.

He also got instructions to stay in the game if at all possible. The Yankees already had Carlos Beltran playing first base for the first time in his long career, and they couldn't afford to lose another body.

In the top of the seventh, Solarte walked out to second base. Slowly. And he finished the Yankees' 3-2 victory over the Red Sox.

For Solarte, it was another key -- if painful -- moment in his emergence from unnoticed free-agent minor-league signing to everyday player in the absence of the injured Mark Teixeira.

With Teixeira out, the versatile Solarte has been starting most every game at third base, with Kelly Johnson sliding over to first.

On Sunday, the Yankees also were without Derek Jeter (quadriceps) and Brian Roberts (lower back). So Solarte started at second and went 1-for-3 with a walk as the Yankees took three of four from their rivals.

Solarte can play shortstop, too, and the outfield. It was that versatility, plus a boffo spring training, that earned the 26-year-old a utility nod over the defensively inconsistent Eduardo Nuñez.

Solarte hit .429 with two homers and nine RBIs in Florida. He continued that hot streak in the regular season, becoming the first Yankee to have multi-hit games in his first three starts since Joe DiMaggio in 1936.

Going into Tuesday night's series opener against the Cubs, Solarte is batting .357 with six doubles and seven RBIs in 12 games. He leads the Yankees in doubles and is second in RBIs and hits (15). He also has not been charged with an error.

"You know what? I'm not going to try to figure it out," manager Joe Girardi said. "I'll just tell you, I like what I see. He's played extremely well, and he's taken advantage of this opportunity. We'll keep running him out there."

Solarte had been in the minors since signing with the Twins when he was 18. The Venezuelan spent the past two seasons in Triple-A with Texas. In 2013, he hit .276 with 12 homers and 75 RBIs. The Yankees signed him to provide organizational infield depth.

"At the end, there were three teams [interested] and the Yankees were one of them," Solarte said last week through a translator. "It motivated me more that they were watching me and they were interested in having me since the beginning. They also offered me a lot of opportunity and it was close to my family, and family is No. 1 for me."

Solarte's family includes his Uncle Roger -- former Mets outfielder Roger Cedeño. His first name is a combination of his parents' names (mother Yanmili and father Gervis). And now he's making a name for himself in the Bronx.

"I always said that once I reached Yankee Stadium, that was when the dream was going to come true," Solarte said. "Everything I've experienced so far, I've appreciated. It just motivates to give even more."

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