NEW YORK -- Does Curtis Granderson mean more as a man or a sign of things to come?
Granderson, a three-time All-Star, returned from a seven-week stint on the disabled list to start Tuesday's series opener against the Mariners, providing a lift to the Yankees and a message to the rest of the Majors. New York may have started the season with four injured regulars, but the club is slowly working back to full strength.
The Yankees still have an uncertain timeline for veterans Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez to recover from their respective injuries, but that's an issue for another day. Granderson, who missed nearly two months with a broken bone in his right forearm when he was hit by a pitch in his first Spring Training at-bat, represents progress.
"I think guys are probably excited and probably feel a little lift that Grandy's in there," manager Joe Girardi said before Tuesday's game. "I know I was excited to see him. We know what he's capable of doing. We're in a long stretch of 17 games in 16 days, so I think it really helps us in a time like this, especially coming home from a long road trip and a doubleheader. I actually think it's a lift."
Granderson, slotted in at cleanup and left field on Tuesday, has been fairly durable during his career. The veteran has played in at least 150 games in five of the last six seasons, and he had never missed more than 26 games since breaking in as a regular for Detroit in the 2006 campaign.
This year, Granderson missed the season's first 36 games, and he said his patience was buoyed by the fact that his teammates have persevered without him. The Yankees entered Tuesday with sole possession of first place in the American League East, and Granderson is back to help them protect it.
"It's not like I've been trying to rush myself back, because I knew it was a broken bone and I can't go ahead and do anything if it's still broken," said Granderson of his recovery. "You've got to let it heal. And once it was able to heal, we've got to start swinging and getting my legs back underneath me. ... I was excited to get back. I knew the time was going to come sooner rather than later."
Granderson will be forced to make a few adjustments upon his return. The 32-year-old has made all but three of his 1,043 starts in the Major Leagues as a center fielder, and now he'll be forced to move around the outfield. Granderson said he expects to play a little in all three slots.
The bigger adjustment, in this case, may be Granderson's equipment. He'll now be wearing a pad to cover the broken bone in his forearm and another over the place where he's broken his hand twice previously, and he'll even throw on an elbow pad to make sure he's prepared for anything.
"I might as well be safe," Granderson said of the new equipment. "Three times over the course of seven years in the big leagues isn't terrible, but when you start talking about your hand -- your right hand, all those things that can set you back -- you might as well cover it up. I've been fortunate up to this point. But since we've got the opportunity to protect ourselves, let's go ahead and do it."
Granderson was originally expected to get 50 at-bats for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but the Yankees called him back after just five games for their top affiliate. Granderson said he kept close tabs on the Yankees while he was gone and that he's excited to be back in the fold.
"I talked to my family and some friends last night; everybody on that side is excited," Granderson said on Tuesday of making his long-awaited return to the lineup. "I'm just as excited. I'm also nervous. It's the first game. I didn't get a chance to get Opening Day, so today is my Opening Day. And just like every Opening Day, there's always a little bit of nerves until that finally passes."
MRI on Pronk's balky shoulder negative
NEW YORK -- The Yankees got Curtis Granderson back in the lineup on Tuesday, but they may have a developing injury situation with another veteran. Travis Hafner got the day off due to pain in his right shoulder, but an MRI exam came back clean, alleviating the team's concern.
Hafner, who also received a cortisone injection to help manage the inflammation, said after the Yankees' 4-3 victory over Seattle that he initially injured the shoulder when he was hit by a pitch and that the pain has lingered for the last few weeks.
"It's good; it just showed some inflammation in the shoulder," said Hafner of the MRI. "I got an injection in it and hopefully that clears it up. It should be good to go in a couple days."
Hafner said the injury affected him mostly on the follow-through of his swing, and he said that the ailment has little or nothing to do with previous injuries to his shoulder. Hafner played in New York's doubleheader at Cleveland on Monday, but Tuesday gave manager Joe Girardi a chance to rest the veteran.
"It's just a little tendinitis in his shoulder," Girardi said after learning the results of the MRI exam. "It came out as good as we could've hoped for. He's going to be OK."
Hafner had a tremendous April, batting .318 with a .438 on-base percentage and six home runs in 66 at-bats. The designated hitter walked 12 times in the opening month, but he's batted just .133 with a .257 OBP in his last 10 games. Hafner hasn't gone deep since hitting a solo homer on April 27.
"[It's] a little sore," Girardi said before Tuesday's game. "We're going to try to get him a couple days. ... It's been bothering him for a little bit. He's managed it. He's played through it and he's been fairly productive for us. We're just taking some cautionary things to see where he's at and to make sure that we're not missing anything."
The Yankees worked around Hafner's absence on Tuesday by slotting Vernon Wells in as the designated hitter, and that alignment allowed Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki to start in the outfield with Granderson. And if you ask Girardi, Granderson can be the key to getting everybody some rest.
"I don't think it hurts to give a guy a day off here and there, spread it around a little bit," Girardi said. "You can't expect him to necessarily go eight or nine days in a row right out of the chute. I think that would be unfair to him. Get him kind of back into playing every day. But they're all going to play a lot."
Nuno not discouraged by demotion to Minors
NEW YORK -- If nothing else, Vidal Nuno can be satisfied that he made a positive impression.
Making his first big league start in Game 2 of Monday's doubleheader with the Indians, Nuno threw five scoreless innings in a 7-0 win, and he helped bail out the Yankees from a pitching shortage caused by the twin bill. Nuno, who has a 0.00 career ERA in two big league appearances, was optioned back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Tuesday.
But it wasn't because the team was unhappy with his performance. Nuno pitched as well as he could've on Monday, but the Yankees needed his roster spot. Veteran Curtis Granderson returned to the team on Tuesday, and Nuno is the odd man out for now.
"He opened our eyes in Spring Training," manager Joe Girardi said of the rookie southpaw. "He continues to impress. I don't think we have any hesitation about calling him back up."
Nuno said he took some confidence from Monday's outing, and he also said that he's been told he'll start again on Saturday for the team's top affiliate. The 25-year-old has gone 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in his first four starts for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and he said on Tuesday that he'll get right back to taking care of business.
"It was good, just knowing that I can pitch up here; I showed everybody that I belong here," Nuno said of his brief opportunity in the big leagues. "It's just day by day and start by start. That's what I can handle, and that's what I'm thinking. I don't think anybody is thinking anything else."
Nuno threw three scoreless innings as a reliever in his big league debut, and he'll get back to regular work down at Triple-A. Nuno has posted a 2.85 career ERA in five Minor League seasons.
"We feel really good about what he did in a short stint here," Girardi said of the lefty's lone start. "We'll send him down and he'll continue to be a starter. We'll call him [up] as we feel a need. As I told him, he did so well that he probably got himself sent down ... because he went so long. If he goes one inning and throws 30 pitches, he's probably still here and somebody else goes."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.