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02/13/10 3:36 PM EST

Gardner in camp with eye on bigger role

Outfielder working on bunting, taking fly balls in right field

TAMPA, Fla. -- Brett Gardner plans to prove that he can be an everyday outfielder for the Yankees, and showcasing the ability to lay down beautiful bunts now and then would be a nice addition to his tool belt.

The 26-year-old spoke with reporters from the New York Daily News and The Associated Press on Friday at the club's Minor League complex in Tampa, Fla., saying that he focused more attention on squaring the bat around during his workouts this winter.

"That's the good thing about hitting off a [pitching] machine," Gardner said, according to the Daily News. "You can bunt 50 or 100 balls in 15 or 20 minutes. No time. I've been bunting a lot, working on that more and trying to bring that back into my game.

"Now it's just a matter of being comfortable enough with it not to be scared to do it in a game and have confidence that I'm going to put it where I want it. Not only can it be a tool to get on base, but it keeps defenses honest and can bring the corners in and maybe I can shoot some balls by them."

After spending the winter hitting at a facility near his South Carolina home, Gardner was among a contingent of early arrivals in camp, well in advance of the Yankees' position player report date of Feb. 23.

Gardner may find the jump helpful, heading into a spring where he will challenge Randy Winn and Marcus Thames for playing time and to confirm that he should be in the Opening Day outfield for the Yankees on April 4.

The Yankees acquired Curtis Granderson from the Tigers in December with the original intent of playing him in center field, but those plans may be flexible, especially after Melky Cabrera was later shipped to the Braves in a deal for right-hander Javier Vazquez.

Manager Joe Girardi said that he views the outfield setup of Gardner, Granderson and Nick Swisher as interchangeable, but he intends to keep Swisher in right field for the most part.

That will leave Granderson, an All-Star center fielder last year, and Gardner, a speedy pure candidate for the same position, to sort things out in the Grapefruit League.

"I'll just wait and see what happens," said Gardner, who said he would also take balls in right field, just in case. "I'll just go into Spring Training, stay healthy and do the best I can. It's not really something I worry about. Hopefully, I'll have a good spring and do well enough for them to feel I need to be out there every day no matter where I am."

Gardner hit .270 with three home runs, 23 RBIs and 26 stolen bases in 108 games for the Yankees last season, beating Cabrera to serve as the Opening Day center fielder before transitioning into a reserve role.

He missed 40 team games after suffering a fractured left thumb on July 25 against the Athletics, interrupting a 56-game stretch where he was batting .308 (40-for-130) after hitting just .214 (15-for-70) to begin the season.

According to The AP, Gardner hit in a batting cage Friday with Derek Jeter. He also got the chance to talk with a number of other teammates, including Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes, after his first workout at the Yankees' complex.

"I think we have a good mix of guys," Gardner said. "We've got a lot of guys fighting for playing time. I'm sure everybody is anxious to get started."

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