Brett Gardner has not appeared in a major league game since suffering a wrist injury diving for a fly ball on April 17 against Minnesota.
But it appears his return could be coming in the next few days in the form of a pinch runner and possibly eventually in the field on defense.
“It’s possible,” Girardi said. “We need to get him on the field in some spikes in some situations that he might be put in before we can decide if he’s ready to go.”
Gardner spent Saturday’s optional batting practice session working on his bunting and base running. He began taking fly balls in batting practice two weeks ago and is expected to do some drills that include him sliding head first.
“I think I’m a couple days away from possibly being able to be in a game,” Gardner said. “That’s obviously going to be up to them. I’m not swinging a bat right now. I’m hopeful to do that maybe next week. We’ll see how that goes.”
The possibility of Gardner’s return could be a boost for a team that currently ranks 12th in the AL and 26th in the majors with 73 steals. It also could help considering the Yankees have just 12 steals in the last month, a stretch during which they've lost 17 of 28 games.
“I feel back to my old myself. I feel like I’m a hundred percent,” Gardner said. “Obviously I didn’t know until I started swinging a bat, but as far as pinch running or even playing defense, playing catch, ground balls, line drives, fly balls, diving for a ball, I don’t have any reservations.”
Since hitting caused repeated setbacks during his rehab, Girardi ruled out any plate appearances and even sounded nervous about Gardner playing defense.
“We’d have to think about, do we think it’s safe for him to play defense?” Girardi said. “Pinch-running might be the first step. He’s taken some fly balls out there for us. As long as he’s able to run, our concern is if he was to dive and tuck under again.”
Nunez returns to short
Eduardo Nunez made a key error in the ninth inning Friday night when a ground ball went under his legs, allowing Tampa to score its sixth run.
Many Yankee fans probably wanted Jayson Nix to play shortstop in place of Derek Jeter on Saturday, but Girardi did not share their feelings. Nunez was visibly upset with the play as he slammed his glove when he came into the dugout after the top of the ninth.
“I think so,” Girardi said of running Nunez out there again. “The focus will be the error and I understand that -- the play that he didn’t make -- but you look at the plays that he did make. He made a lot of really good plays for us over the last two days and that’s what we need to focus on and what he needs to focus on.”
Girardi also said that he didn’t think Jeter’s left ankle would heal enough for the Yankee captain to take the field until Tuesday at the earliest.
Ichiro leads off
When Girardi made up his lineup card, he placed Ichiro Suzuki at the leadoff spot.
While some might have thought it would be permanent against right-handed pitching, Girardi made the move based on numbers against James Shields.
Ichiro is 14-for-46 (.304) off Shields. That gives him the second-highest batting average among regulars off Shields, though Ichiro is 3-for-16 off the right-hander over the last two seasons.
Saturday marked the second instance Ichiro led off as a Yankee. He was 1-for-5 in a 5-2 victory July 25 in Seattle.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.