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08/16/09 3:26 PM ET

Girardi gives Cano, Cabrera a breather

Yanks second baseman, center fielder get day off Sunday

SEATTLE -- With his club enjoying the best second-half start in franchise history, Yankees manager Joe Girardi elected to rest both Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera for the finale of a four-game series against the Mariners on Sunday.

Cano had played every game since the All-Star break, as the Yankees won 23 of 29 contests to surpass club marks set in 1938 and '41. Cabrera had played every inning in center field since Brett Gardner was placed on the disabled list July 26.

Girardi said that the Yankees' hearty advantage in the American League East -- 7 1/2 games over the second-place Red Sox entering play on Sunday -- helped make the moves into simple decisions.

"You have to be smart and you have to listen to what the player is telling you," Girardi said. "You can't jeopardize someone's health for the long haul. It does make it easier to do it right away."

Ramiro Pena logged the start at second base for New York, with super-sub Jerry Hairston Jr. making his first appearance in center field since being acquired from the Reds on July 31.

With Gardner on the shelf until September with a fractured left thumb, it was Hairston's ability to spell Cabrera on occasion that made the trade -- for Minor League catcher Chase Weems -- attractive.

Cabrera had made 20 consecutive starts since Gardner went on the disabled list, and he was 1-for-12 in the series at Safeco Field. With Thursday and the following Monday also scheduled as off-days on the Yankees' upcoming schedule, Girardi said Sunday made sense.

"I thought [Cabrera] could use a day," Girardi said. "You start to see a guy's legs when they're hitting, maybe they aren't under him as much as you'd like them to be. I think that this will help him and refresh him."

Cano has hit safely in 13 consecutive games, including going 2-for-4 on Saturday and logging multiple hits in 10 of his past 12 games. Girardi said that he had no qualms about using Pena at second base, and said the rest could be productive for Cano.

"It's not like Robbie's struggling," Girardi said. "I think that sometimes physically you just need a day. You don't want him to get to the point where he's fatigued and strains something, or nicks something up."

Girardi also said that Hideki Matsui -- out of the lineup for a second successive game -- is experiencing some fluid in his left knee and that it had become "a little bit" of a concern that could require draining.

Matsui has battled chronic knee issues in recent seasons that have kept him from playing a single inning in the field this year, though he has been productive as a designated hitter and has 12 hits in his past 36 at-bats.

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.