Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner bats during the eighth inning against...

Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner bats during the eighth inning against the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium on July 12. Credit: Jim McIsaac

MINNEAPOLIS – It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Brett Gardner entered spring training with a secure roster spot but also with a role not likely to change. As the club’s fourth outfielder. That did change, however, when Aaron Hicks went down with a back injury and started the season on the injured list. Mike Tauchman, a late acquisition, left camp instead as the reserve outfielder.

Gardner was thrust into full-time duty, which continued pretty much unabated after Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge also went to the IL in April. Stanton has appeared in just nine games. Perhaps all of that more than expected playing time for Gardner, who turns 36 Aug. 24, has caught up to him.

Gardner, who played in 92 of the club’s first 98 games – starting in 84 – was scratched from the lineup Sunday with soreness in his left knee. An MRI showed “a little something in there,” according to Aaron Boone. The outfielder, who is slashing .243/.325/.460 and playing solid defensively in center and left, did not start Monday night, either.

Boone said before Monday’s game that Gardner was available if need be, but the manager hoped that wouldn’t be the case.

“Probably in a perfect world, try to stay away from him,” Boone said. “He’s done most of his pregame work already. Felt like there’s significant improvement from yesterday. Whether he’s back in there tomorrow or not, not sure yet. But I view him as a player if we needed him.”

The Yankees on Monday went with an outfield alignment of Tauchman in left, Hicks in center and Judge in right. Tauchman was on an 8-for-15 tear and has played well overall since he was recalled June 26.

Gardner traced the injury to the ninth inning of Saturday’s victory against the Rockies, when he made a catch in which he slid on his right knee and his left leg bent awkwardly.

“It’s just something that’s been bothering me for a little bit,” Gardner said after Sunday’s game. “I made a catch [Saturday] in the ninth inning that maybe banged it up a little bit, kind of aggravated it. This morning it wasn’t feeling great, [but] I could have played.”

Boone went the conservative route Sunday and Monday. Gardner, after all, is his only outfield regular who hasn't been on the injured list this season, which the Yankees would like to see continue.

“I’m certainly mindful of it,” Boone said of the number of games Gardner has played. “Hopefully, next week we can get Cameron Maybin back [from the injured list] in the mix as a righthanded hitter and an opportunity to spell Gardy at different times. So I think there will be opportunities to pick our spots to where we do keep Gardy fresh.”

Although it was a negative that Gardner banged up his knee, a positive can come out of it.

“It does give him a few days to let the rest of his body benefit, hopefully, from being down,” Boone said. “It’s something I’m mindful of. Our situation this year has been such to where we’ve had to lean on him pretty heavily, so we’ll do what we have to do. And Gardy, I feel like as much as anyone, age or not, is prepared for the rigors of it all. But we’ll certainly be mindful of it.”

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