Gardner, Posada near full strength

Gardner, Posada near full strength

NEW YORK -- Satisfied that Alex Rodriguez's lower body stiffness does not seem to be indicating a more serious issue, the Yankees also received positive injury-related progress reports on Friday concerning Brett Gardner and Jorge Posada.

An MRI examination taken in New York revealed that Gardner has a Grade 1 -- the slightest grade -- sprain in a ligament in his left thumb, and he was cleared to resume batting drills in the cages.

Gardner has been available only as a pinch-runner since Tuesday, when he felt a tweak in the thumb after a sixth-inning check-swing against the Orioles' Kevin Millwood. Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that he expected to use Gardner only as a pinch-runner on Friday against the Astros but added, "I hope to get him back soon."

Posada moved closer to getting behind the plate in game situations on Friday, continuing to increase his workout regimen in early-afternoon drills with coach Tony Pena and showing no ill effects of the fractured right foot that cost him 16 games this season.

"I don't see him favoring his foot in those drills that he's doing," Girardi said. "I see him moving fine. To me, he's getting close."

Posada made his ninth straight start as a designated hitter on Friday, but a return to catching could help him find his rhythm again. Posada entered Friday hitless in his past 11 at-bats and had just three hits in 30 at-bats since being reinstated from the 15-day disabled list.

"They haven't said anything, but I'm good," Posada said after Thursday's 4-3 loss to the O's. "Everything feels good. To tell you the truth, it's just playing in the games now. ... I don't know. I could [catch against the Astros]. I don't think they are going to let me, but I could, yes."