DETROIT -- The Yankees broke camp by naming Brett Gardner as their Opening Day center fielder and putting Melky Cabrera in a reserve role. Twenty games into the season, those assignments appear to have flip-flopped.
Cabrera started in center for the third consecutive game on Wednesday, relegating Gardner to the bench for the series finale against the Tigers. Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that he plans to continue playing the hot hand, and Gardner said he understood the decision.
"I've gotten off to a pretty slow start and when he's gotten opportunities, he's been swinging the bat really well," Gardner said of Cabrera. "We need to have the guys in there who are hot right now, who are giving us the best chance to win the ballgame. He's swinging the bat well. He deserves to be playing."
Cabrera has logged 13 hits in his last 36 at-bats, including going 2-for-3 with two runs scored, an RBI and two walks in the Yankees' 11-0 win on Tuesday. Girardi said that his lineup shuffle was not a slight on Gardner, who is batting .220 (13-for-59) in 19 games.
"It's just been Melky has been playing so well, swinging the bat so well," Girardi said. "We had talked about that Gardy was our center fielder when we left, but that didn't mean that Melky wasn't going to play and couldn't work his way back in."
Gardner said that he spoke with Girardi about the decision, saying, "He said to just keep my head up and know they haven't lost confidence in me, and to keep working hard."
Girardi said that Gardner would find his way back into the lineup again -- perhaps when Johnny Damon or Nick Swisher inevitably take a day off.
"I know he was finding ways to give Melky and Swish at-bats earlier in the season when they weren't in the lineup," Gardner said. "And I know he'll find ways to give me at-bats even though I'm not in the lineup, so I'm not really worried about it and I'll get plenty of opportunities. I just have to work hard and be ready for those when they come."
Gardner has just three hits in his last 23 at-bats and is 1-for-9 on the Yankees' six-game road trip to Boston and Detroit. He said that a major reason for his struggles has been falling behind in the count.
"I think for some reason or another, I've gotten away from being aggressive," Gardner said. "I was really aggressive in Spring Training. I hit the ball real well. I just haven't been since the season started."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.