NEW YORK -- It is, as right-hander A.J. Burnett said, a different lineup when the Yankees have Alex Rodriguez's name in the cleanup spot.

But they could do worse than to have Robinson Cano -- whom Nick Swisher said "is on another planet" right now -- as a fill-in option.

Cano -- who entered Friday's game against the Astros as the Major League leader in hits (89) and batting average (.376) -- assumed the No. 4 spot in New York's lineup for the second time in his career on Friday, having also hit fourth against the Indians on May 28, when he collected four RBIs.

Three days later, Cano and Rodriguez hit back-to-back homers against Cleveland pitching, and Rodriguez was seen yukking it up in the dugout with Cano. Rodriguez later explained: "The other day, he hit fourth and wanted to push me out of the way. I was just telling him, 'It's not quite time for that yet.'"

Not that Cano hasn't stated his case well. In the 13 games since trying out A-Rod's cleanup spot, Cano has hit .491 (26-for-53) with five doubles, three homers and 16 RBIs.

"He's hit there once and had quite a day," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He had fun with Alex on that day, and hopefully, he can rib Alex again tonight. He's been a real positive force in our lineup all year long, and he's swinging the bat great right now."

Gardner, Posada near full strength

NEW YORK -- Satisfied that Alex Rodriguez's lower body stiffness does not seem to be indicating a more serious issue, the Yankees also received positive injury-related progress reports on Friday concerning Brett Gardner and Jorge Posada.

An MRI examination taken in New York revealed that Gardner has a Grade 1 -- the slightest grade -- sprain in a ligament in his left thumb, and he was cleared to resume batting drills in the cages.

Gardner has been available only as a pinch-runner since Tuesday, when he felt a tweak in the thumb after a sixth-inning check-swing against the Orioles' Kevin Millwood. Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that he expected to use Gardner only as a pinch-runner on Friday against the Astros but added, "I hope to get him back soon."

Posada moved closer to getting behind the plate in game situations on Friday, continuing to increase his workout regimen in early-afternoon drills with coach Tony Pena and showing no ill effects of the fractured right foot that cost him 16 games this season.

"I don't see him favoring his foot in those drills that he's doing," Girardi said. "I see him moving fine. To me, he's getting close."

Posada made his ninth straight start as a designated hitter on Friday, but a return to catching could help him find his rhythm again. Posada entered Friday hitless in his past 11 at-bats and had just three hits in 30 at-bats since being reinstated from the 15-day disabled list.

"They haven't said anything, but I'm good," Posada said after Thursday's 4-3 loss to the O's. "Everything feels good. To tell you the truth, it's just playing in the games now. ... I don't know. I could [catch against the Astros]. I don't think they are going to let me, but I could, yes."

World Cup fever hits Yanks' clubhouse

NEW YORK -- Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli sported a rather unorthodox top as he made his way to the underground batting cages on Friday. He tried hitting in a customized Italy soccer jersey, personalized with his name and the No. 29.

"Italy all the way," said Cervelli, whose father, Manuel, is of Italian descent.

Cervelli said that he ordered the jersey on the Internet, but of course, he earned the one hanging in his closet at home. Cervelli represented Italy in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

The Yankees have organized a World Cup pool in their clubhouse, and some players have gone so far as to purchase the jerseys of their respective teams. For example, A.J. Burnett drew Paraguay and had a jersey waiting on his locker chair, adorned with his name and No. 34 on the back.

Cervelli's heart might be with Italy, but he is also going to be cheering for Cameroon, whose name was on the slip of paper he drew. Coaching assistant Brett Weber drew Italy, and Cervelli knew better than to try to work out a trade.

"That would take a lot," Cervelli said.

Worth noting

Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano were among the Yankees to greet 85-year-old Lavonne "Pepper" Paire before Friday's game. Paire was a 10-year veteran of the All-American Girls Professional League (1944-53) and a technical adviser on the movie A League of Their Own. ... Yankees right-hander Alfredo Aceves, on the 15-day disabled list with a strained lower back, said he plans to begin throwing again on flat ground on Sunday. ... Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter entered Friday having reached base in 28 consecutive games since May 12. ... Former Yankees center fielder Bernie Williams is performing jazz shows on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at New York's Iridium Jazz Club.