NEW YORK -- Does Curtis Granderson mean more as a man or a sign of things to come?
Granderson, a three-time All-Star, returned from a seven-week stint on the disabled list to start Tuesday's series opener against the Mariners, providing a lift to the Yankees and a message to the rest of the Majors. New York may have started the season with four injured regulars, but the club is slowly working back to full strength.
The Yankees still have an uncertain timeline for veterans Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez to recover from their respective injuries, but that's an issue for another day. Granderson, who missed nearly two months with a broken bone in his right forearm when he was hit by a pitch in his first Spring Training at-bat, represents progress.
"I think guys are probably excited and probably feel a little lift that Grandy's in there," manager Joe Girardi said before Tuesday's game. "I know I was excited to see him. We know what he's capable of doing. We're in a long stretch of 17 games in 16 days, so I think it really helps us in a time like this, especially coming home from a long road trip and a doubleheader. I actually think it's a lift."
Granderson, slotted in at cleanup and left field on Tuesday, has been fairly durable during his career. The veteran has played in at least 150 games in five of the last six seasons, and he had never missed more than 26 games since breaking in as a regular for Detroit in the 2006 campaign.
This year, Granderson missed the season's first 36 games, and he said his patience was buoyed by the fact that his teammates have persevered without him. The Yankees entered Tuesday with sole possession of first place in the American League East, and Granderson is back to help them protect it.
"It's not like I've been trying to rush myself back, because I knew it was a broken bone and I can't go ahead and do anything if it's still broken," said Granderson of his recovery. "You've got to let it heal. And once it was able to heal, we've got to start swinging and getting my legs back underneath me. ... I was excited to get back. I knew the time was going to come sooner rather than later."
Granderson will be forced to make a few adjustments upon his return. The 32-year-old has made all but three of his 1,043 starts in the Major Leagues as a center fielder, and now he'll be forced to move around the outfield. Granderson said he expects to play a little in all three slots.
The bigger adjustment, in this case, may be Granderson's equipment. He'll now be wearing a pad to cover the broken bone in his forearm and another over the place where he's broken his hand twice previously, and he'll even throw on an elbow pad to make sure he's prepared for anything.
"I might as well be safe," Granderson said of the new equipment. "Three times over the course of seven years in the big leagues isn't terrible, but when you start talking about your hand -- your right hand, all those things that can set you back -- you might as well cover it up. I've been fortunate up to this point. But since we've got the opportunity to protect ourselves, let's go ahead and do it."
Granderson was originally expected to get 50 at-bats for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but the Yankees called him back after just five games for their top affiliate. Granderson said he kept close tabs on the Yankees while he was gone and that he's excited to be back in the fold.
"I talked to my family and some friends last night; everybody on that side is excited," Granderson said on Tuesday of making his long-awaited return to the lineup. "I'm just as excited. I'm also nervous. It's the first game. I didn't get a chance to get Opening Day, so today is my Opening Day. And just like every Opening Day, there's always a little bit of nerves until that finally passes."