6/20/2014 12:25 A.M. ET
Gardner sparking Yankees' lineup from up top
By Jake Kring-Schreifels and Jamal Collier / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- Ever since he was a walk-on at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, Brett Gardner has been overlooked. But recently it's been hard not to see what he's been doing on the field.
The Yankees left fielder and leadoff man extended his hitting streak to six games with a double in the first inning on Thursday night against Toronto. Gardner entered the game batting .304 with three home runs and two triples in June.
"I think because of the names and the people in the middle of the order, sometimes a guy like that can be overlooked," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I've talked about when we haven't had him how much we've missed him, and it's really great to have him in the lineup every day and the job he does in left field ... when you talk about the Yankees, he's probably not going to be the first name that's talked about, but he's extremely important."
Wednesday night's game against the Blue Jays was a perfect microcosm. Gardner slapped four singles (jumping his batting average up to .290), the first one leading to the game's opening run, and scored twice in New York's 7-3 win.
"We all take a lot of pride in what our job is and I feel like that's my role at the top of the order, try to get on base and get over into scoring position so these can drive me in," Gardner said.
Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, the former leadoff man with the Red Sox, has also paced the offense. Ellsbury has started 23 games at the top of the lineup and a majority (42 games) in the three-hole, where he was on Thursday. After a couple of hitless nights since breaking his recent 17-game hitting streak, Ellsbury singled on Wednesday night and scored a run.
"I like what I see out of both of them," Girardi said. "You can only have one leadoff guy. I feel like our lineup has two of them in a sense, but you can only use one of them and Gardner's done a really good job at the top of the order. It really lengthens our lineup and puts a lot of speed up top in front of these guys who can hit the doubles and the home runs, so it's seemed to work OK."
Beltran maintaining light throwing schedule
NEW YORK -- The Yankees are not placing a timetable on when Carlos Beltran will return to the outfield.
After spending nearly four weeks on the disabled list with a bone spur in his right elbow, Beltran was activated from the DL on June 5 to serve primarily as the team's designated hitter. He played catch for the first time on June 11 and continues to make about 25-50 throws at 90 feet.
"We're trying to lengthen him out a little bit in a sense where he's throwing farther," manager Joe Girardi said. "And increasing the intensity a little bit, but we don't really have a date.
"It's kind of a day-by-day thing because we've kind of told him if he feels anything, we probably need to stop it."
Beltran likened his rehab schedule to Spring Training. He is playing catch for two days and then taking a day off.
Beltran is still getting used to being a DH, but said he is starting to feel more comfortable at the plate. Beltran was hitting .219 with six home runs and 18 RBIs before going on the DL.
"I'm used to being in the outfield, being active, being in the game," Beltran said. "Being a DH basically, you go hit and you go to the cage, you sit down on the bench, so you're not as active.
"So, I try to go to the cage and continue to move myself and stretch."
Johnson sustains bruised fingers on left hand
NEW YORK -- Yankees third baseman Kelly Johnson left with one out in the sixth inning of Thursday night's game after bruising some fingers on his left hand on a bunt attempt.
Manager Joe Girardi and assistant athletic trainer Mark Littlefield came out to check on Johnson, who stepped out of the box favoring his hand. He stepped back in the batter's box to try to continue the at-bat with a 3-2 count, but called timeout before Blue Jays reliever Aaron Loup could offer another pitch.
That prompted Girardi to emerge from the dugout again and replace Johnson with Yangervis Solarte, who struck out on the next pitch and took over on defense at third base. The strikeout was charged to Johnson, who finished 0-for-2 with a sacrifice fly in the second inning. Solarte drew a bases-loaded walk in the seventh to plate the Yanks' final run.
"Kelly's OK, he's got some bruised fingers," Girardi said. "He'll be day to day and we'll see how he feels tomorrow."
Johnson was expected to be an everyday player entering the season, as the team's third baseman and as the primary backup first baseman, when Mark Teixeira needed a break. But at one point in late May, Solarte was hitting .310 and led the Yankees with 24 RBIs, while Johnson's average hovered around .200.
"If you're a guy who's losing playing time because somebody is doing that well and you're winning games, you're not going to be that upset," Johnson said before Thursday's game. "But at the same time playing always helps to especially find a groove. It's hard to find a groove when you're not really playing a lot."
Solarte has been mired in a bit of a slump -- he has not had a hit since June 8 against the Royals and was 0-for-21 in his last six games entering Thursday -- while Johnson was batting .379 during his previous 10 games.
• Entering Thursday, the Yankees had won 15 consecutive home games against the Blue Jays.
"Sometimes when you get in those streaks, sometimes you wonder how it happens," Girardi said. "A lot of times there's no rhyme or reason ... sometimes it's hard to figure out."
• Girardi said right-hander Dellin Betances was not available out of the bullpen on Thursday. Betances pitched in the first two games of the series, tossing two shutout innings on Tuesday and another scoreless frame on Wednesday.
Jake Kring-Schreifels and Jamal Collier are associate reporters for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.