Hot-hitting Ichiro forces way into lineup

Hot-hitting Ichiro forces way into lineup

MILWAUKEE -- The Yankees never appeared to have a concrete plan for how Ichiro Suzuki would be utilized this season, with the arrivals of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran bumping the veteran star into a sort of floating reserve role.

There would be days when Ichiro would come off the bench as a pinch-hitter or be used to pinch-run, and manager Joe Girardi knew that he could count on Ichiro as a stellar defensive replacement. It was a puzzle how often, and when, Ichiro would be needed to start.

"It's something that obviously he's never done," Girardi said. "I don't know if you could ever go back to a time at any part of his career where he hasn't been an everyday player. Maybe in Little League where you don't play every day; that might have been the last time. He's been great."

The 40-year-old Ichiro, who started on Sunday in right field and batted seventh in the series finale against the Brewers, has forced his way into a crowded outfield mix that is also populated by Brett Gardner and Alfonso Soriano.

Ichiro entered play on Sunday with 10 hits in his last 25 at-bats (.400), batting .377 with a .400 on-base percentage and .453 slugging percentage in 29 games. To Girardi, that has stated the case for more playing time.

"His at-bats have been outstanding," Girardi said. "It's a nice weapon to have. He's done a really good job."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.