BOSTON — Brett Gardner became the latest Yankee forced to the sidelines by injury, and the timing couldn’t have been worse.
The Yankees might have lost their catalyst leadoff hitter and center fielder for the remainder of the regular season due to a Grade 1 left oblique strain suffered Thursday at Baltimore.
“He’s going to be out a while…it’s not like it’s just a few days,” manager Joe Girardi said on Friday, before the Yankees opened another pivotal series against the Red Sox. “Is it possible (he) could be (out) the rest of the year? Yeah.”
Girardi installed Curtis Granderson into the leadoff spot and in center field.
But there was some sliver of hope that Gardner could contribute to the Yanks’ manic playoff run.
Depending on how quickly he heals, Gardner would “probably be available to us as a pinch-runner before anything else,” Girardi said. “We’ll see how he feels every day, basically, and if it bothers him to run.
Girardi anticipates that Gardner would be healthy enough to resume an everyday role if the Yanks make the postseason. That would be a reversal from last season, when Gardner played just 16 regular season games due to right elbow surgery but was available in postseason — going 0-for-8 in limited duty.
An MRI taken Friday in New York revealed that the lefty-hitting outfielder suffered the oblique strain as he attempted to check his swing Thursday in the Yankees’ eventual 6-5 victory against the Orioles.
After the game, Gardner wasn’t sure what to expect since he’d never previously suffered a rib cage strain.
However, “it felt serious enough for me to say something and come out of the game,” Gardner said. “I know something’s not right. I felt like if I went out there, it was just going to get worse and I was going to hurt the team, because I wasn’t anywhere close to 100 percent.”
Gardner is the 19th player to be sidelined on a Yankees club that has used a franchise season record 55 players this year.
Until this week, Gardner, 30, was finally enjoying a rare injury-free season, batting .273 with eight homers, 33 doubles, 10 triples, 52 RBI and 24 stolen bases in 32 attempts.
A wrist injury that hampered Gardner for much of the second half in 2010 resulted in offseason surgery. In 2009, Gardner fractured his left thumb and missed over a month.
“(He’s) a big loss,” Girardi said of Gardner. “We’ve had to overcome a lot during the course of this year, and we’re going to continue to have to do that. People are going to have to step up in his absence.”
That primarily falls on Granderson, who suffered separate wrist and hand fractures earlier this year — limiting him to just 46 games and creating havoc in his free-agent walk year.
But Granderson can easily look past his truncated season to appreciate what lies before him and the club now.
“We’re in the thick of things. We have a chance to get to the playoffs and it’s been fun. It’s been unscripted to a tee,” said Granderson, who hit what proved to be a big solo home run after replacing Gardner on Thursday night at Camden Yards. “Anything you can think of that can happen has happened.”
Gardner’s strong defensive presence caused Granderson to switch to left field this season, and the trade for Alfonso Soriano increased Granderson’s time at designated hitter due to Soriano’s dislike of the DH spot.
“Being moved around hasn’t mattered too much to me,” said Granderson. But Friday was just his second start at leadoff this season.
“Just be aggressive,” Granderson said. “That’s kind of been my approach- be ready to attack.”