The Yankees do not anticipate Gardner being able to swing a bat for them this season, but they envision using him in pinch-running situations and possibly as a defensive substitute.
"This is a guy that we don't expect to be able to hit for us, but is it possible he could do some other things? Yes," manager Joe Girardi said before Saturday's game against Tampa Bay. "We would have to think about, 'Do we think it's safe for him to play defense?' Pinch-running might be the first step."
Gardner has not appeared in a game since April 17, when he strained his right elbow while diving for a fly ball in left field. Gardner suffered three setbacks in his attempt to return before undergoing arthroscopic surgery to remove inflamed tissue in his non-throwing elbow.
The 29-year-old Gardner said he felt 100 percent healthy about two weeks ago, when he began shagging fly balls during batting practice. He practiced bunting and ran the bases on Saturday and will continue to do so in the coming days.
Gardner said he will begin sliding into bases headfirst on Sunday, and Girardi said there is no fear that Gardner will reinjure his elbow doing so because his arm will be extended, not tucked under his body, as it was when he got injured. Girardi was more concerned about the potential for another injury if Gardner plays defense, but he said the Yankees will consider that possibility.
Gardner said he would not hesitate to dive if playing the field, and he might start swinging a bat next week, although the Yankees are not counting on using him as a hitter for the rest of this season.
"Obviously, I won't know how I feel until I start swinging a bat and taking BP on the field," Gardner said, "but as far as pinch-running, playing defense, playing catch, ground balls, line drives, fly balls, diving for a ball -- I don't have any reservations about any of that."