Twins Yankees Baseball

New York Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner hits a home run against the Minnesota Twins in the 2017 American League wild-card playoff game. File/AP 

Brett Gardner was prepared to give up his role as an everyday starter for the New York Yankees, accepting his status as the most tenured player in pinstripes and passing the torch to younger guys.

Yet 71 games into the season, the 35-year-old outfielder has played in all but four.

The College of Charleston legend has been a huge part of the Yankees' success while All-Star sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton nursed significant injuries on the Disabled List.

But those guys, along with several others, are due back this week. So where does Gardner fit in the talented Yankee outfield, one he’s navigated for more than a decade?

In all likelihood, Gardner will slide into a reserve role. Judge, Stanton and Aaron Hicks are expected to start in the outfield, and newly-acquired Edwin Encarnacion will serve as the Yankees’ designated hitter.

Gardner, a one-time All-Star and Gold Glover, is taking it all like a consummate professional.

“Obviously we’ve got a lot of talented guys in the room, and a lot of talented guys headed back which will do nothing but make our team stronger,” he told the New York Daily News. “You never know what can happen.”

The Holly Hill native has long since lost his leadoff slot in the lineup, but he’s been a factor in the middle of the pack. Gardner is hitting .233 this season, his worst average since his rookie year in 2008. But his 11 homers are tied for fourth on the team, and his 31 RBIs are tied for sixth. Gardner also leads the team with six stolen bases.

With injuries always seeming to plague the Yankees lineup, Gardner said he’ll be ready if his number is called, adding that New York probably has the deepest roster in the league.

“Obviously we’ve got a lot of talented guys in the room, and a lot of talented guys headed back which will do nothing but make our team stronger,” he said. “Nobody expected me to play center field 40 out of the first 45 games this season, but you just never know man. Gotta stay ready.”

Regardless of what the rest of the season brings, one thing is clear: Gardner is battle-tested.

In the midst of a slump that included 22 at-bats without a hit, Gardner, in frustration, threw his helmet at the dugout bench after a June 9 strikeout. The helmet ricocheted and hit him in the face, resulting in stitches.

A week later, on June 16, he bounced back with four RBIs in one game, helping the Yankees regain first place in the AL East.

Reach Derrek Asberry at 843-937-5517. Follow him on Twitter @DerrekAsberry

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