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09/02/09 7:50 PM ET

Gardner starts rehab assignment Thursday

Center fielder could rejoin big club for Labor Day

BALTIMORE -- Brett Gardner cleared his final hurdle with the Yankees and will begin a Minor League rehab assignment with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Thursday.

Gardner traveled to Baltimore with the Yankees and took batting practice on Tuesday and Wednesday, testing his left thumb, which was fractured on July 25, when he slid into Athletics second baseman Mark Ellis and reached out to touch the base with his hand.

Manager Joe Girardi said that Gardner could be recalled before the end of Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's season, as New York will play a Labor Day doubleheader on Sept. 7 against the Rays and could use roster reinforcements.

"I think it makes sense to probably evaluate him after four days to see where he's at," Girardi said. "We'll get a feeling if he's ready or not."

Girardi said that the Yankees will watch to see if the 25-year-old can play comfortably without favoring his hand while swinging the bat. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre plays at Buffalo on Thursday before playing two games at Rochester and returning home.

The Yanks' Opening Day center fielder was hitting .275 with three home runs and 20 RBIs in 85 games, and the plan is that he will back up Melky Cabrera in center field upon his return.

"The thing about Gardy is that he stayed in tremendous shape, and he's been running all over the place," Girardi said. "It's still different when you're playing games in spikes. We'll try to go five innings [on Thursday] and get him three 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.