NEW YORK -- Russell Branyan returned to the Mariners' starting lineup on Tuesday night against the Yankees, batting third.

Manager Don Wakamatsu said he decided to put the team's new homers leader between Chone Figgins and Milton Bradley after a chat he had with the left-handed-hitting first baseman.

"We talked about where he'd hit this year in Cleveland, and he said he's hit anywhere from fourth to sixth," Wakamatsu said of Branyan, who entered Tuesday with 10 home runs. "I think the biggest thing with him is being able to see what impact he has on the other guys around him, whether it's [Jose] Lopez, or [Franklin] Gutierrez or even Bradley, if he takes pressure off those guys and backs everybody up.

"We'll see after today's game -- and as we go forward -- if that's a good fit, or we move him somewhere else. Right now, I feel pretty comfortable with the third spot."

The move shows just how different the Mariners' lineup is this season compared to last. Branyan, who led the Mariners with a career-best 31 home runs in 2009, was used sparingly in the No. 3 spot, going 1-for-6.

Branyan was especially productive batting fifth (.305, 13 homers, 26 RBIs) and sixth (.390, three, eight). He hit 14 of his home runs while batting second.

Most of Branyan's at-bats with the Indians this season came batting fourth (36), fifth (51) and sixth (71).

Branyan is expected to get most of the playing time at first base going forward, "playing six of seven games until the All-Star break, and then re-evaluate and maybe play eight of nine," Wakamatsu said with a smile.

Lee issues walk, ending lengthy streak

NEW YORK -- Mariners left-hander Cliff Lee's streak of consecutive walk-free innings ended at 38 1/3 on Tuesday night, when he issued a full-count free pass to Jorge Posada of the Yankees in the second inning.

Lee had faced 144 batters since walking Nick Punto of the Twins on June 2.

The streaks were the longest in Mariners history. Jamie Moyer previously held the longest streak in terms of innings at 28 1/3 in 2002. Lee's three consecutive starts without a walk also set a club record.

Sweeney eager to return from DL

NEW YORK -- Designated hitter Mike Sweeney understands why the Mariners put him back on the 15-day disabled list on Sunday, but that doesn't prevent him from being frustrated.

"I told them in Milwaukee that I'd be ready on Tuesday, and I'm ready today," Sweeney said on Tuesday, "so it's a bit frustrating to be on the DL when I felt I didn't need to be. But I know there are other things involved. I can understand their position. We needed a pitcher, and at the time they made the move, I wasn't 100 percent."

For most of the past two seasons, Sweeney has been bothered off and on by a sore back.

"It's frustrating, because I know that when I'm available, I can help this team win," Sweeney said. "It's hard. I went out and hit BP today to stay sharp, and hopefully, the first day before the All-Star break I'll be activated."

Sweeney has been limited to 30 games this season but ranks among the team leaders with six home runs and 18 RBIs, along with a .263 batting average.

Bard back with Mariners; Alfonzo out

NEW YORK -- The Mariners switched catchers on Tuesday, activating switch-hitter Josh Bard from the 15-day disabled list and designating Eliezer Alfonzo for assignment.

The Mariners have 10 days to trade, release or outright Alfonzo to the Minor Leagues.

Bard had been sidelined since May 27 with a strained left calf.

Why Bard over Alfonzo?

"He a switch-hitter, No. 1," manager Don Wakamatsu said, "and we were pretty impressed with the energy he brought when he came up last time. He can communicate and relate to the pitching staff. A lot of guys were comfortable with him.

"We felt with his status and what he showed in Spring Training, he was going to be that first guy [to come up], and once he showed he was healthy, it was just something we were going to go back to."

Bard batted .273 with one home run and four RBIs in 22 at-bats during May.

Alfonzo was promoted from Triple-A Tacoma on May 28 and made an impressive debut two days later, going 3-for-5 with a home run and four RBIs against the Angels.

But he was 6-for-36 with no home runs or RBIs in 13 games since his debut.

"We'd love to have him back in the organization if he decides to," Wakamatsu said. "It's going to be his decision, and right now he's talking [it over] with his agent."

Worth noting

Mariners closer David Aardsma rejoined the team on Tuesday after missing two games to be with his wife in Arizona for the birth of their first child, a son named David Zachary. Aardsma said he arrived in time for the Saturday night birth. "I didn't miss a single thing," Aardsma said. "It was wonderful. I can't imagine anything would ever compare to that." ... With Russell Branyan returning to the Mariners' starting lineup in Tuesday's series opener at New York, manager Don Wakamatsu has now used 63 lineups in 76 games. ... Left-hander Erik Bedard will make his third rehab start on Thursday and figures to get his pitch count up to about 75-80.