ST. PETERSBURG -- Pitching on back-to-back days -- often considered the final step in the recovery process of a reliever -- could be on tap for Yankees right-hander Rafael Soriano.
Soriano gave up a run on two hits and threw 16 pitches in his lone inning of work for Class A Tampa on Thursday. Prior to his outing, Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he could see Soriano pitching in a back-to-back situation on Sunday and Monday, which could set him up to be activated off the disabled list by the middle of next week.
"Probably, yeah," Girardi said when asked if Soriano could rejoin the Yankees by Wednesday or Thursday.
Soriano has been out since May 13 with inflammation in his elbow, and he gave up two runs in 1 1/3 innings in his first rehab game on Tuesday.
In that same Tampa Yankees game on Thursday, Eric Chavez went 1-for-3 with an RBI double. Chavez also played third base for the first time and remained on the field for six innings. Chavez is nursing a bone bruise on his foot and went 4-for-5 as the designated hitter on Wednesday.
Ivan Nova, who injured his right ankle while pitching for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Tuesday, remains an option to start for the Yankees in a July 30 split doubleheader against the Orioles.
But that'll depend on how he feels.
As for right now?
"He feels OK," Girardi said about Nova. "He's on the seven-day [disabled list], but he feels pretty good."
Girardi added that third baseman Alex Rodriguez (arthroscopic knee surgery) has been doing exercises in the pool in Miami and had his stitches taken out Thursday.
Infielder Ramiro Pena, who underwent an emergency appendectomy on Monday, has been released from the hospital.
"He walked into the hotel yesterday a little hunched over," Girardi quipped.
Girardi goes with Gardner in leadoff spot
ST. PETERSBURG -- With Curtis Granderson out after taking a beating the last couple of days, and cleanup hitter Alex Rodriguez still on the shelf, Joe Girardi's lineup construction on Thursday didn't necessarily represent a tough decision.
But the top of it is something that may continue in the coming days, as the Yankees' manager slotted Brett Gardner in at the leadoff spot and Derek Jeter in the two-hole.
Girardi talked about getting the hot-hitting Gardner back up top on Wednesday, and the combination of who's out of the Yankees' lineup and who was starting for the Rays -- right-hander James Shields -- knocked Jeter out of the leadoff spot for the first time since April 14.
Gardner batted .237 with a .321 on-base percentage in his first 24 starts as a leadoff man this year, but came into Thursday's series finale at Tropicana Field batting .560 with a .621 on-base percentage and seven steals in seven second-half games.
Expect to see more of that Gardner-Jeter combo at the top against right-handed starters.
"You might," Girardi said. "I've thought about it. I think about, I look at the pieces that we have every day. I mean, it's definitely something we can do. I can hit [Gardner] first and [Jeter] second. There's some things that I can do there. But the great thing about [Gardner] is he's been an outstanding force in the bottom of the order, as well."
Girardi said he doesn't have a problem leading Gardner off against opposing left-handers, but Jeter's numbers against southpaws this season -- .325 batting average and .419 on-base percentage -- are good.
Against Athletics right-hander Trevor Cahill on Friday, Girardi could sport the same top two, then have Granderson -- with his team-leading 26 homers -- batting third. But then there's the danger of disrupting the flow of Granderson, who has felt so comfortable in the No. 2 spot all year.
It's an issue Girardi is essentially dealing with on a day-to-day basis right now.
Granderson gets early breather in finale
ST. PETERSBURG -- Joe Girardi had pretty much already made his decision by the time he approached Curtis Granderson before Thursday's game.
"He asked how everything was feeling and I said, 'Everything's all right, I just want to swing, just to make sure that was OK,'" Granderson recalled. "He goes, 'OK, I'm giving you the day,' before he even got a chance to see how it felt. But I told him I'll be ready. I am ready."
Granderson wound up coming into the game as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning, eventually flying out against James Shields, then striking out against Kyle Farnsworth for the final out of the game.
But Granderson had taken a beating over the last couple of days. He was hit by a pitch on the left foot on Tuesday, then had three things go wrong on Wednesday -- he collided with the center-field fence after making a sensational catch, was drilled in the back by a David Price fastball, and fouled a ball off his right shin.
Regardless, it's tough to sit Granderson at any point these days.
The 30-year-old came in leading the team with 26 homers, leading the American League with eight triples, and leading the Majors with 85 runs scored. Perhaps most impressive is the improvement he has made against lefties.
In Wednesday's first inning, Granderson hit his Major League-leading 10th homer off a lefty when he took Price deep. Last year, he hit just four all year against southpaws.
Granderson credits his 2011 success off lefties to the batting-practice pitches from lefty-throwing hitting coach Kevin Long -- as well as his teachings.
"Last year we made the change, Kevin Long and myself, just to calm down all my moving parts with the swing, just so I wouldn't have to do too much to get myself ready to hit and attack the baseball," Granderson said. "And I think that helps me to recognize balls and strikes."
With a double in the eighth inning of the Yankees' 2-1 loss to the Rays on Thursday, Derek Jeter tied Wade Boggs for 25th on the all-time list with 3,010 career hits. He needs 10 more to tie Rafael Palmeiro for 24th.
Lefty reliever Boone Logan has a 2.16 ERA in 12 appearances since June 22. Asked how he'd feel if the Yankees acquired another lefty before the non-waiver Trade Deadline, thus pushing his role to the earlier innings, Logan said: "Yeah, I think anybody wouldn't like it so much if their job got taken away from them. I mean, it'd be tough to swallow. But if it's better for the team, then so be it."
Yankees catcher Russell Martin had been working on growing a mustache, essentially since the start of the second half. But prior to Thursday's game -- just as it was getting full -- Martin opted to shave it off. "It was ugly as [heck]," he said.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.