New York Yankees' Brett Gardner (11) high fives Derek Jeter...

New York Yankees' Brett Gardner (11) high fives Derek Jeter (2) after they scored on a base hit by Nick Swisher in the first inning. (Aug. 17, 2010) Credit: John Dunn

Brett Gardner has supplanted captain Derek Jeter -- at least for Opening Day.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Wednesday that Gardner, their speedy table-setter, will lead off against righthanded pitchers, starting Thursday against Tigers ace Justin Verlander.

"It was something that we talked about," Girardi said, referring to the decision to drop Jeter back down to the No. 2 hole, his original spot in the Yankees' lineup. "The job that [Gardner] did against righthanded pitching last year, he was second on our club in on-base percentage . . . His ability to disrupt defenses, the pressure that he puts on a pitching staff, his ability to score runs -- we thought, it's a pretty good fit."

With the Tigers expected to start three righthanders in a row (Brad Penny and Max Scherzer will follow Verlander), Gardner should lead off each game. But when the Yankees face lefthanded pitching, Girardi said, Jeter will bat first and Gardner will drop to ninth in the order.

Gardner batted .307 with a .402 on-base percentage against righthanded starters last year.

"It possibly gives him 50, 60 more at-bats during the course of the year. Maybe 70," Girardi said of Gardner, who hit .252 against lefties with a .373 on-base percentage and batted .287 with a .387 on-base percentage against righthanders.

"If he's on close to 40 percent of the time, he's going to score more runs. You almost have to assume that, unless it's a ground-rule double, any double that he's on first he's going to score. It doesn't take a lot to score him; he can steal second, steal third and sac fly. So we think he's going to score more runs, so that's why we're doing it."

Neither Jeter nor Gardner seemed to care much about the lineup change.

The captain, a career .314 hitter who batted a career-low .270 last year, said: "It doesn't make a difference. I've hit second more than first, anyway."

Gardner was just as nonchalant about the news.

"I'm not sure what's going to happen, but just stay healthy and working to improve and try to get on base as much as I can," said the outfielder, who stole 47 bases last season. "It's all the same, it doesn't matter."

Girardi insisted neither player was caught off-guard by the news and also said he spoke privately to Jeter about his decision.

"We talked a little in the spring about it, that we were going to try it," Girardi said. "I'm not going to surprise him with it, I wouldn't do that. So he knows that he's going to hit second [today] and Gardy knows that he's going to hit first."

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