Brett Gardner heads back to the dugout after striking out...

Brett Gardner heads back to the dugout after striking out in the third inning of a game against the Texas Rangers. (July 22, 2013) Credit: AP

BOSTON -- Curtis Granderson, and not Brett Gardner, was the centerfielder and leadoff man when the Yankees faced the Red Sox at Fenway Park Friday night. And that's the way it's going to be for a while.

An MRI confirmed that Gardner has a grade 1 strain of the muscles in his rib cage on the left side. Manager Joe Girardi said Gardner could miss the rest of the regular season, which ends Sept. 29.

"Is it possible it could be the rest of the year? Yeah," Girardi said before adding that he thinks Gardner can return if the Yankees make the playoffs.

Gardner, who was not in Boston, was injured on a checked swing in the first inning of the Yankees' 6-5 win over the Orioles on Thursday night. The Yankees said he left with an oblique strain, which is a newfangled way of saying rib-cage strain that has gained prominence for no known reason.

Whatever it's called, Gardner's injury is another blow to the Yankees in a season of them. The 30-year-old was batting .273 with 24 stolen bases and career highs in RBIs (52), doubles (33), triples (10) and home runs (eight) in 145 games.

"It's a big loss," Girardi said. "We've had to overcome a lot during the course of this year and we're going to have to continue to do that. People are going to have to step up in his absence. He's been really good for us. He's been really good offensively, defensively, getting us off to quick starts, and he's going to be out a while."

At least the Yankees have an experienced backup in Granderson, a three-time All-Star.

He was their centerfielder the previous three seasons and was supposed to play left this year in deference to the defensively superior Gardner. But Granderson has suffered through a freakish season.

He twice was hit by pitches and suffered broken bones. The first came in his first at-bat of spring training, when he was hit on the right forearm. Then May 24, he was hit on the left pinkie. He returned again Aug. 2 and has been used as a part-time outfielder and designated hitter.

Now Granderson, who went 0-for-5 in the Yankees' 8-4 loss to Boston, is back in center. Girardi used Granderson instead of Ichiro Suzuki in the leadoff spot, though the manager said that could change depending on the opposing pitcher.

Granderson, a free agent after the season, went into Friday night batting .250 with six homers and 13 RBIs.

"Ready to move forward," he said. "We have a chance to get to the playoffs. So it's been fun. It's been unscripted to a T. Anything that you could think of happening has happened, and I'm sure there's a lot more that will happen that is unpredictable, which has made it fun."

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