The Yankees could get some unexpected bench help down the stretch.
Brett Gardner, thought to be lost for the season when he underwent surgery on his right elbow (his glove hand) in July, might return sometime this week in a pinch-running/defensive-replacement capacity. “It’s a real possibility,’’ general manager Brian Cashman said.
Before the Yankees’ optional batting-practice session Saturday morning, Gardner practiced bunting and ran the bases, the first time he’d done so since the surgery. “I feel back to my old self. I feel like I’m 100 percent,’’ he said.
The most significant test for Gardner, which could come later this week, would be a full round of batting practice.
“But as far as pinch running or playing defense, playing catch, ground balls, line drives, diving for a ball,’’ Gardner said, “I don’t have any reservations about any of that.’’
The news was somewhat surprising, given that only three weeks ago, Cashman all but ruled out any kind of return for Gardner this season. But the outfielder, who hit .321 in nine games before suffering the elbow strain while diving for a ball, has healed quickly.
“This isn’t a guy we expect to hit for us,’’ Joe Girardi said. “But is it possible he could do some other things? Yes.’’
For his part, Gardner never ruled out a 2012 return. “I’ve known all along that it was a possibility,’’ he said. “I’m not going to count myself out of anything.’’