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07/17/12 12:21 AM ET

Stiff neck pushes A-Rod into DH role

NEW YORK -- Alex Rodriguez experienced a stiff neck during batting practice on Monday at Yankee Stadium and was moved to designated hitter in the Yankees' lineup.

Rodriguez had been slated to play third base, batting third, as the Yankees opened a three-game series with the Blue Jays. He remained in the same lineup spot, but Eric Chavez -- batting eighth -- moved from DH to third base.

"Alex woke up with a little stiff neck," said manager Joe Girardi. "He tried to work through it. He took ground balls. It was on his right side, so he was able to turn left, but it was hard for him to turn [right], and when he would throw, it would seem to aggravate it. There's a good chance he'll DH tomorrow. Hopefully it clears up, but there's a good chance [DHing again] might happen."

Rodriguez went 2-for-4 with two runs scored in the Yankees' 6-3 win over Toronto on Monday. He has 13 hits in his past 34 at-bats, and he's 6-for-17 on the homestand.

Rivera not ruling out return to Yanks this season

NEW YORK -- Could Mariano Rivera be back on the mound by the end of the season? The Yankees aren't expecting the all-time saves leader to be ready before 2013, but Rivera isn't ruling out the possibility.

Rivera spoke optimistically about a September return in an interview on Monday with ESPN Radio's Michael Kay, addressing a published report that suggested his torn right ACL might not be a season-ending injury after all.

"That's my goal," Rivera said. "Definitely, that's my goal. I'm not thinking about it, because if it doesn't happen, I will be disappointed. So I'm taking it day by day. I'm working hard and doing what I'm supposed to do. I don't want to put something in my mind.

"I want to make sure that I do my things first. That's what I'm doing, that's the way I'm thinking. Day by day, positive, optimism. Whatever the Lord will allow to happen, that will happen."

The New York Post reported last week that while Rivera's working theory is that he is out for the season, his rehabilitation is ahead of schedule. The Post quoted Dr. Keith Pyne, who is overseeing Rivera's rehab, as saying that "if I was putting money on it, I would put my money on Mo."

Rivera was injured on May 3 in Kansas City while shagging batting-practice fly balls. He did not undergo surgery until June 12 because of a blood clot in his right leg, but doctors have been impressed by how quickly he is recovering.

"I'm working. I'm feeling good," Rivera said. "That's all I can tell you. I feel good and the therapy is great. Everything is good. You have to continue working hard and wait to get on the field."

The 42-year-old Rivera was 1-1 with a 2.16 ERA and five saves this year. He has 608 career saves and said he has been tossing baseballs with his children, but will not guarantee that he'll be pitching to any big league hitters this season.

"I don't know," Rivera said. "I don't know. I can't answer that. I want to. I want to be there now. Only God knows."

Gardner's elbow sore day after simulated game

NEW YORK -- Outfielder Brett Gardner suffered a third setback in his attempt to return from a strained right elbow suffered April 17 making a diving catch. He took four at-bats Sunday in a simulated game in Tampa, Fla., but felt soreness Monday and did not continue his rehab, as scheduled.

"It's a concern because it's happened before. Hopefully he can get through this and continue to play, but we'll have to wait and see," said manager Joe Girardi. "We expected that he would get through this, and our hope is still that he'll get through this, but today he was a little sore. I can't tell you what's going to happen. I can't tell you what's next. We'll have to see what tomorrow brings."

Girardi said all doctors came up with the same diagnosis, which included three to four weeks of rest after a visit to Dr. James Andrews and a platelet-rich plasma and cortisone shot by Dr. Timothy Kremchek, the Reds' orthopedist, in late June.

Gardner targeted a return after the All-Star break following what had been his most recent setback in early June, but Girardi acknowledged that was likely unrealistic. The Yankees once targeted a June 11 return, but then Gardner's soreness persisted a day after taking swings and playing five innings in a rehab assignment with Class A Charleston.

CC says he's feeling good on eve of return

NEW YORK -- CC Sabathia called the two-plus weeks he spent on the disabled list "embarrassing," but he will return to the rotation Tuesday against Toronto acknowledging that the rest was likely good for his arm.

The left-hander said he has not felt soreness from the groin strain that landed him on the 15-day DL since the week he suffered the injury and felt it again during a bullpen session two days after a June 24 start against the Mets.

The Yankees opted to take the safe route and shut him down, causing him to miss two scheduled starts before the All-Star break. They will use caution again when he returns to the Yankee Stadium mound, with manager Joe Girardi monitoring his pitch count. Sabathia averaged 112 pitches in his first 15 starts.

"I've thrown a lot in between," Sabathia said. "I threw [Sunday], so I feel like I've had enough work off the mound, played enough catch, threw off flat ground, that I should be able to go out and be able to throw strikes."

Sabathia, who had not missed a scheduled start since 2006 prior to the DL stint, kept to his normal between-start routine approaching Tuesday's return.

"Command of his stuff -- that's my biggest concern when you haven't pitched in over 15 days," Girardi said. "I want to see how he does. The other thing: Just stay healthy, please. Just stay healthy and we'll get through the rest of it."

Bombers bits

• Reliever Joba Chamberlain will pitch another rehab inning Tuesday, but Girardi was unsure whether it would be with the Gulf Coast League Yankees or Class A Advanced Tampa. The right-hander threw two scoreless innings Saturday with the GCL Yankees as he works to return from Tommy John surgery last June and an open dislocation of his right ankle in March.

• The Yankees entered their series against Toronto with 38 regular-season games remaining games at Yankee Stadium, and 18 of them are against the American League East rival Blue Jays and Red Sox. They had played the Blue Jays only twice this season, dropping both games of a two-game set in Toronto in May.

• On this date in 1904, Highlanders pitcher and future Hall of Famer Jack Chesbro stole home in the bottom of the 10th inning against Detroit to score the game-winning run in a 9-8 New York victory.

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