Jeter is expected to bat second against right-handed pitchers and to reprise his leadoff duties against southpaws, and Girardi said that the move was designed to take advantage of Gardner's patience and ability to run the bases.
"It was something we talked about, the job that he did against right-handed pitching last year. I think he was second on our club in on-base percentage," said Girardi. "His ability to disrupt defenses, the pressure that he puts on a pitching staff [and] his ability to score runs is something we thought was a pretty good fit. He's going to lead off [Thursday vs. the Tigers], and we've talked about Jeet leading off against lefties. Our lineup will change a little bit, but we'll have consistency for right-handers and left-handers."
Jeter, strangely enough, has posted remarkably similar statistics in the leadoff and second spot in the order. The 11-time All-Star has batted .313 with a .385 on-base percentage and a .454 slugging mark as the team's leadoff hitter, and he's batted .314 with a .385 on-base and .454 slugging percentages as the No. 2 batter. True to form, Jeter said his placement won't matter.
"I've hit second more than I've hit first anyway," said Jeter before Girardi's revelation.
As usual, Jeter was correct. He's logged 3,069 at-bats in the leadoff spot in his career, but he's had significantly more (5,188) as the second batter in the lineup. Gardner, who logged a .383 on-base percentage and a .379 slugging mark last season, will likely bat at the bottom of the order against lefties. Against righties, though, he's one of Girardi's best hopes.
"It possibly gives him 50-60 more at-bats during the course of the year, maybe 70," said Girardi of Gardner. "If he's on close to 40 percent of the time, he's going to score more runs. You almost have to assume -- unless it's a ground-rule double -- that any double that he's going to be on first, he's going to score. It doesn't take a lot. Maybe he can steal second and steal third, sac fly. We think he's going to score more runs, and that's why we're doing it ... and just how he's able to disrupt pitchers."
Girardi said that center fielder Curtis Granderson is his lone question mark for Thursday's Opening Day lineup. Mark Teixeira is expected to bat third behind Jeter and Gardner, and he'll be followed by Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher and Jorge Posada. The eighth spot is still undecided, and Russell Martin will bat ninth on Opening Day.
Girardi said during his news conference Wednesday that he made sure to tell Jeter before he told the media.
"I already talked to him today," he said. "We talked a little in spring about it, that we were going to try it. You know, I'm not going to surprise him about it. I wouldn't do that. He knows that he's going to hit second. And Gardy knows he's going to hit first."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.