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Speedy duo key to Yankees' game plan

Ellsbury, Gardner can spark offense, ease load on pitchers
Special to MLB.com

TAMPA, Fla. -- Yankees manager Joe Girardi believes it's too early to make any determination on the lineup for the regular season, but outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner figure to be mainstays at the top.

Last season, before Ellsbury suffered a right knee injury, the duo helped New York jump out to a 22-18 record through May 19, enough to be tied atop the American League East standings.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Yankees manager Joe Girardi believes it's too early to make any determination on the lineup for the regular season, but outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner figure to be mainstays at the top.

Last season, before Ellsbury suffered a right knee injury, the duo helped New York jump out to a 22-18 record through May 19, enough to be tied atop the American League East standings.

"You don't necessarily have to hit home runs to score runs with those two guys, and that's why they're so important," Girardi said. "At times, we had trouble scoring runs because of the type of club we were. It seems like when those guys are really getting going, that's when we really put up big numbers. You think about the games you're in, it's nice to put up some big numbers where you don't necessarily have to use your big three [relievers] in wins and you get them days off when you don't have to use them."

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The main concern this year is not with Ellsbury but with Gardner. The 32-year-old suffered a bruised left wrist in the team's AL Wild Card Game loss to the Astros in October, and it has been lingering since then.

Yankees cautious as Gardner recovers from wrist injury

Girardi said he fully expects Gardner to be ready for Opening Day, and Gardner affirmed that statement on Saturday.

"I don't have any concerns at all," Gardner said. "Hopefully by the end of next week I'll have caught up to everybody else and be ready for a game."

Gardner, who was an All-Star last year and hit .259, appears to be on track. On Thursday, he took 50 swings in the cages, and he took 50 more Saturday -- 25 off the tee and 25 on soft toss -- in addition to more throwing.

"The plan is for me to do the same thing [Sunday]," Gardner said. "Hopefully early next week we can take live BP and ramp it up a little bit."

Ellsbury's health, meanwhile, appears to be no issue now. Keeping him healthy is key for the Yankees, especially if he can match last year's strong start.

Through his May 19 injury, Ellsbury was hitting .324 with a .783 OPS. From his July 8 return through the end of the season, those numbers dropped to .224 and .601. The team, meanwhile, finished 87-75 and second in the Majors with 764 runs scored.

Ellsbury also saw the importance of having the speed he and Gardner provide at the top of the lineup to contrast the power their teammates bring.

"If Gardner and I hit one-two, it makes those guys better to drive in runs," Ellsbury said. "We have high standards, take pride in what we do, and try to get in base. ... The goal is to do what you saw at the beginning of last year and duplicate that."

Tweet from @Yankees: Say ��! Photo Day is here. #NYYSpring pic.twitter.com/1c4YhAkleA

Greg Zeck is a contributor to MLB.com.

New York Yankees, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner