A-Rod back on defense; Wang throws

TAMPA, Fla. -- Alex Rodriguez took another step toward returning to the New York Yankees on Saturday by playing defense for the first time since right hip surgery in early March.

Rodriguez played third base for five innings in an extended spring training game against Pittsburgh minor leaguers. He had one play, cleanly fielding a one-hopper and then throwing out Gemmy Gonzalez at first base.

Rodriguez called it "an important day" to resume playing in the field and that everything felt good.

"It's been awhile since I've been out on the field," said Rodriguez, who was a DH the previous two days. "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."

The three-time AL MVP said he feels ahead of the Yankees' target return date of May 15. There is a chance Rodriguez could rejoin the team during a weekend series May 8-10 at Baltimore.

Building stamina is one of the final parts of the rehab program.

"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 everyday."

Rodriguez went 0-for-6 with two strikeouts Saturday, and has two hits -- including a homer -- in 18 at-bats with three walks over three extended spring games.

"I'm really looking for balance and good contact," Rodriguez said. "I did that really good [Friday]. Today wasn't so good. My body is a little fatigued always on Fridays and Saturdays from the [rehab] workload."

Rodriguez is not scheduled to do any off-field work Sunday, and will play in another extended spring game Monday.

"I think Monday and Tuesday I should be running the bases, and it should be full-go," Rodriguez said. "I have slid here 14 times on the mat. Now it's just matter of going out and doing it on the field."

Dr. Marc Philippon, who operated on the hip on March 9, examined Rodriguez on Wednesday.

"He assured me that nothing [bad] will happen," Rodriguez said.

Pirates minor leaguer Kyle Bloom faced Rodriguez five times and struck him out twice.

After both left the game, Rodriguez autographed and gave his bat to the left-hander.

Also, Chien-Ming Wang, on the 15-day disabled list due to weakness of the abductor muscles in his hips, threw four no-hit innings in the extended spring training game.

Wang missed the final 3½ months last season with a right foot injury, and said a lack of flexibility with the foot impacted his pitching this year.

He is taking part in an off-field program that includes working out in a pool, which is a regular part of Rodriguez's regiment.

"It's a lot better," Wang said. "I can stay back longer. Can throw the ball lower."

Wang struck out three and walked two. The right-hander could make at least two more extended spring starts, with the next one scheduled for Thursday.

"I thought Wang was good," Rodriguez said. "He was throwing the ball downhill. He's getting stronger. We're in the pool getting our work in and already in three or four days his progress has been very good."

Wang threw 33 of 52 pitches for strikes.