OAKLAND -- When shortstop Derek Jeter went down due to injury this spring, manager Joe Girardi decided to slot outfielder Brett Gardner in as the Yankees' everyday leadoff hitter. Gardner has made it an easy call to keep writing his name atop the lineup, day after day.
Gardner has played in all of the Yankees' 64 games this season and is swinging a red-hot bat, earning American League Player of the Week honors last week after batting .520 (13-for-25) with a .556 on-base percentage, five doubles, one home run, six RBIs and five runs scored.
"He's really swinging the bat," Girardi said. "He's been a force at the top of our order, he's playing very good defense and running the bases. He's been locked in."
Gardner missed nearly all of last season with a right elbow injury suffered in April, but playing every day -- and batting leadoff -- has agreed with the speedster. He has hit in 15 of his last 17 games and entered play Tuesday batting .284 with six homers and 27 RBIs.
"It's just been good to be healthy and be out there," Gardner said. "I haven't really thought about it like that, but it's been good to be able to come to the filed knowing you're going to be leading off and playing center field. I guess it makes things a little easier, maybe."
Gardner said that he has tried to be more aggressive early in the count at the plate, and though he has stolen 10 bases in 15 tries, Gardner said that having Robinson Cano batting second has made him think twice about running on the basepaths.
"I know that's a big part of my game and I know I want to get into scoring position for Robbie, but early in the season I got thrown out with Robbie Cano at the plate and that's not something that I want to do," Gardner said.
Gardner has also done a nice job of barreling up the pitches he has seen, which accounts in part for his relative power surge -- his six homers are one shy of a career high, set in 2011, but he doesn't expect to be grouped with the Yanks' power hitters.
"I don't really worry about that. I might end up with six or seven home runs," Gardner said. "I might end up with 15 or something. My job is to get on base. If I turn on one and hit it good, then great, but I'm happier hitting line drives up the middle."