FORT MYERS, Fla. - Once again, Brett Gardner is in spring training battling for a job.
No surprise, he said.
"That's the way it's been for me always, even in college," Gardner, 26, said after the Yankees' 11-0 loss to the Twins at Hammond Stadium. "Since I got drafted by the Yankees in '05, I've always been competing for a job. I feel like it makes me better, makes me work harder, and I'm sure it does the same for the other guys and in turn makes the team better."
Gardner, who started in centerfield Sunday and bunted for a hit in going 1-for-3, is in competition for an outfield spot, though specifically which one hasn't been determined.
The Yankees could put Curtis Granderson in left and Gardner in center, or vice versa. But only Granderson is guaranteed to start at one of the two positions.
Marcus Thames, Randy Winn and Jamie Hoffmann also are competing for spots, and though the Yankees would like to have Gardner in the lineup, manager Joe Girardi has said the outfielder must win a job outright.
"You have to prove yourself," he said recently. "Obviously, there are some jobs where we know some people are going to be, but Gardy still has to go out and win the job and play at a high level."
Even if he does, the win can be temporary, as Gardner found out last season.
He had an electric spring training in 2009, beating out Melky Cabrera for the starting job in center by playing well in the field, hitting .379 and tying for the team lead in stolen bases with five. But he slumped and eventually lost the job to Cabrera.
The 5-10, 183-pound Gardner broke his left thumb July 25 when he jammed it into second base while trying to break up a double play. He didn't return until Sept. 7 but still had a solid season, hitting .270 in 108 games (63 starts in center) with 26 stolen bases in 31 attempts.
"He showed me that he doesn't panic,'' Girardi said, "and I think that's important because sometimes when you get off to a slow start, guys try to make up 50 points in a week, and that's hard to do. You just have to grind out each at-bat, and I thought he did that."
Gardner's on-base percentage (.345) was a concern, and the Yankees wanted him to work on his bunting in the offseason, which he did.
In the third inning Sunday, Gardner bunted his way on, laying one down the first-base side and beating lefthander Mike Maroth's throw.
"When you're successful with it, it kind of gets your confidence up that you can do it again and do it right," Gardner said. "Just have to keep doing it, keep working on my mechanics with it. The main thing with it is just timing, staying in there, making sure you get a good bunt down and then running."
Girardi said the decision to bunt - which he called a "weapon that he has and that he has to use" - is almost entirely up to Gardner.
"I might ask him in a situation to bunt for a base hit,'' Girardi said, "but he's on his own."
The bunt single made him 1-for-9, but he's not concerned about where he stands in relation to the other outfielders.
"Just don't worry about it," Gardner said. "Just go out and do my thing and do my best to try and make improvement on the field, at the plate and on the bases, and that's it. You can't get caught up in the numbers and what other guys are doing. Just worry about yourself."