NEW YORK -- Alex Rodriguez took a significant step on Saturday toward his approaching return to the Yankees, playing defense for the first time since his March 9 right hip surgery.
Rodriguez played third base for five innings against Pittsburgh Minor Leaguers in an extended Spring Training game in Tampa, Fla. He didn't get a lot of action, but handled his one chance flawlessly, fielding a one-hopper and then throwing out Gemmy Gonzalez.
At the plate, Rodriguez went 0-for-6 with two strikeouts and did not run the bases. He told The Associated Press that it was "an important day" to return to the field and added that everything felt good.
"It's been a while since I've been out on the field," Rodriguez said. "When you go out and play the field, it definitely makes you feel like you have to do everything in the game, be on every pitch. I liked it a lot better."
Rodriguez reiterated his belief that his comeback is ahead of the Yankees' original target return date of May 15. He has been working out in Tampa since April 13 and the possibility exists of Rodriguez returning to New York's lineup during the May 8-10 series in Baltimore.
"I think I could play right now, but you've got to go out and do that hopefully for the next six months," Rodriguez said. "It's not about just going out there and doing it for a week. My goal is to go out and play nine innings, play back-to-back nine innings, then obviously for a week and play every day."
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that his reports on Rodriguez's actions were positive and that, as a result of this week, it is "probably more likely" A-Rod will beat the May 15 return date back.
"For Alex, it's just getting his at-bats," Girardi said. "He came out of it very good, played some third base. You can simulate everything else but you can't tell the other hitters to go up and hit it to him. We feel pretty good about where he's at and he's moving along."
In the same game, right-hander Chien-Ming Wang threw four hitless, scoreless innings against the Bucs farmhands, walking two and striking out three. Wang -- on New York's 15-day disabled list with weakness in the abductor muscles of both hips -- threw 52 pitches (33 for strikes).
"Chien-Ming Wang threw the ball very well today, so we were really encouraged," Girardi said.
Girardi said that Rodriguez will not play Sunday and is scheduled to see seven innings of defensive duty on Monday.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.