During a 6-5 victory Thursday night, outfielder Brett Gardner became the most recent New York Yankees player to go down with an injury, sustaining a Grade 1 oblique strain. Manager Joe Girardi said it will keep Gardner out of the Yankees lineup "a while" and very likely through the remainder of the regular season.
An injury of that severity usually requires 4-6 weeks of recovery, so the Yankees probably shouldn't count on a productive postseason return from Gardner, either.
Obviously it's not the news the Yankees wanted to hear after losing Derek Jeter for the rest of the season earlier in the week. Gardner, one of their few players to remain healthy all season, has been a consistent source of production at leadoff. In 145 games (132 starts) Gardner is hitting .273 with a career-best eight home runs, 10 triples, 32 doubles and 22 stolen bases.
Though Jeter has played in only 17 games this season and clearly wasn't himself, the Yankees must replace their top table setters for two crucial weeks. If only they could rely on Ichiro Suzuki to fill one of those voids, but he's just not that player anymore. Instead, it appears Girardi will go with Curtis Granderson leading off while keeping Alex Rodriguez in the second position, or at least that's the look he's giving the Boston Red Sox on Friday night.
It does look good on paper, but then you move down the lineup and find Eduardo Nunez hitting sixth. That's when you realize the full impact these two injuries will have on their lineup going forward. If they can't create offense out of the top five spots on any given night, they're going to have an awfully difficult time scoring.
Defensively, the adjustments should go much smoother with Granderson shifting back to center field on a regular basis, with Alfonso Soriano manning left field and Ichiro in right. It's a downgraded outfield to be sure, but at least the players are in positions they're comfortable with.
Girardi added on Friday that he hoped to have Gardner available for pinch-running duties at some point, likely during the postseason should the Yankees get a wild card spot. Given how delicate oblique injuries can be, and how susceptible players are to aggravating them and setting themselves back, the Yankees probably shouldn't count on that either. Though running is certainly less of a strain on the muscle than swinging a bat, it probably wouldn't be worth the use of a postseason roster spot if Gardner was anything less than one-hundred percent.
Time will tell how the Yankees can respond to this latest injury setback. They have shown remarkable resiliency so far to stay in the hunt, so counting them out at this point wouldn't be a wise move. As A-Rod might say though, the road only seems to get bumpier as the days go by. Can they continue to navigate it with two spare tires in front, or is a final wipeout coming?