Gardner could return by All-Star break

Yankees' outfielder Brett Gardner looks on during batting Yankees' outfielder Brett Gardner looks on during batting practice. (Feb. 22, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

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What two weeks ago would have been bad news for Brett Gardner is now a welcome compromise for the Yankees' injured leftfielder.

"I have to look at it from the standpoint that I got the best news that I could have gotten," Gardner said Monday about learning he could rejoin the Yankees sometime around the All-Star break. "I was worried something was wrong with the ligament or that I might have a bone chip or a crack in the bone. I'm really happy with the news that I got."

Gardner, who's hitting .321 in only nine games this season, has been out since April 18 with a strained right elbow and a bone bruise. He's twice attempted rehab assignments only to feel discomfort, with the latest stint coming on June 8 in Charleston, S.C. The Yankees announced the All-Star timetable last Thursday, and Gardner confirmed that both his orthopedic surgeons believe a mid-July return is reasonable.

A ligament tear likely would have meant season-ending Tommy John surgery. As of now, Gardner has received cortisone and PRP (platelet-rich plasma) injections to alleviate the pain and help the healing process.

The Yankees have been platooning Andruw Jones and Raul IbaƱez in leftfield.

"We have missed him even though we've been playing extremely well," Joe Girardi said. "We've missed his ability to create runs and we've missed his defense in leftfield . . . I'm looking forward to getting him back."

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The lefthanded-hitting Gardner said he hopes to swing a bat by the end of the month and will "probably stay away from putting a glove on my hand and catching." He believes he won't need a long rehab assignment.

"I can throw and keep my arm in shape and obviously run," he said. "[And] that's the one thing with the injury that I have. I'm still able to stand in on bullpens and track balls coming into the zone.

"If I'm not back by . . . the middle of July, I'll be very disappointed."

Girardi said the Yankees have no intention of rushing Gardner's return and seemed cautious when assessing whether he will be ready in time for the second half of the season.

"You're talking about 4 1/2 weeks from the time he stopped his [first] rehab assignment, so I think it's feasible," Girardi said. "But I also thought when they said 2 1/2 weeks that it was feasible, so we'll have to see."

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