He returned to the Bronx with an uncertain role, but Brett Gardner has gone about business as usual.
The 35-year-old, who re-signed with the Yankees on a one-year contract shortly after last season ended, looked to be behind Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks in the outfield pecking order. Clint Frazier made his case to be ahead of Gardner, too.
As injuries took their toll, Yankees manager Aaron Boone turned to Gardner to provide stability in the outfield. He’s done more than that.
Through 88 games and 300 at-bats entering Tuesday night’s 8-3 victory over the Rays, Gardner owned a slash line of .250/.330/.473 with 15 home runs and 41 RBIs.
“It was a little different going into the offseason before I re-signed to come back, but once I re-signed to come back, I wasn’t concerned about what my role would be,” Gardner said before he went 0-for-3 Tuesday.
In the top of the fourth inning, Gardner tracked a ball off the bat of Avisail Garcia to the wall in leftfield, where he rose with his right arm extended to steal a homer that would’ve given the Rays a 3-1 lead.
In his 12th year in pinstripes, Gardner is the longest-tenured Yankee and a fountain of knowledge for the younger players. Count Mike Tauchman among those who have marveled at Gardner’s preparation, mindset and advice.
“In my experience — and I came to the team right at the end of spring training — my experience with Brett is just that he’s an ultimate professional,” said Tauchman, who was acquired March 23 in a deal with the Rockies. “The way that he prepares and manages the workload allows him to play every day at a high level.”
Tauchman, who has been shuffled back and forth between the Bronx and the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre as the team’s outfield mix has evolved, said he’s gained “invaluable” experience from Gardner.
From his gritty playing style to the way he handles himself as a lefthanded outfielder, Gardner has rubbed off on the 28-year-old.
“Usually I’m hitting after him, and with both of us being lefthanded hitters, the way he describes a pitcher’s action on his pitches or how he’s trying to pitch to him and just different things like that, I’ve really tried to learn from that,” Tauchman said.
“I like the language which he speaks to break down pitchers.”
That language is hardly the only way he speaks to the less-experienced members of the team. His body language — through cold or hot streaks — rarely wavers, and his all-out hustle regardless of the circumstances showcases how playing hard can afford a player chances.
He’s taught Tauchman “how to get the most out of what you have that day.”
Gardner, who hit just .236/.322/.368 in 530 at-bats last season, has provided more than the fans who wrote him off expected. Sure, the Yankees’ best-case scenario would be for Stanton to come back healthy to bump Gardner into a reserve role, one in which he’d likely see time at each outfield position throughout the week.
Whatever the role is, Gardner’s ready.
Putting it simply: “I show up every day ready to play.”