NEW YORK -- Yankees manager Joe Girardi defended his decision to start Curtis Granderson at the top of the order for the third straight game on Sunday.

Throughout New York's series with the Mariners, Girardi has said he's wanted to break up the left-handed hitters in his lineup, but on Sunday, he also pointed to Granderson's .348 on-base percentage against right-handed pitchers -- the third-highest percentage on the team behind Robinson Cano and Eric Chavez.

"Who is our highest on-base guy against right-handers?" Girardi said. "It's Cano. Do you want me to lead him off? No. So Grandy falls into the category where he's one of our higher guys, so that's why he goes there. Then you could say, 'Well, Grandy is a power hitter.' Well, so is Cano, so is [Mark Teixeira], so is [Nick Swisher], so is [Raul] Ibanez. You say, 'Why don't I move him back?' Well, then who do I move up to the front with speed?"

Girardi said Granderson wouldn't be leading off if Alex Rodriguez wasn't on the disabled list with a non-displaced fracture on his left hand, but the injury has forced the manager to get creative. He has hesitated to use Ichiro Suzuki in the leadoff spot since New York acquired the speedy outfielder on July 23 because Ichiro's .261 batting average and .287 OBP are well below his career averages. Derek Jeter, who has batted first in 100 games this year, has a .340 OBP against right-handers this season, so Girardi defended his decision to go with Granderson by insisting he's strictly going by the numbers.

"The bottom line is you want your guys on base in front of your RBI guys," Girardi said. "That's what you try to do. It doesn't hurt to have a home run in the first inning if he's the first hitter or have a two-run homer in the first if he's hitting second. There's nothing wrong with that."

X-rays have Yanks pleased with Pettitte's status

NEW YORK -- A week of rest has paid off for Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte, who underwent X-rays on his fractured left ankle on Sunday. While Pettitte has not been cleared to throw off a mound just yet, manager Joe Girardi said that Pettitte's condition has improved since a week ago, when the Yankees were worried the 40-year-old had suffered a setback.

"He just continues to do what he's doing," Girardi said of Pettitte's next step. "He plays catch, and we'll try to keep him exercising his legs the best he can. Hopefully, it just continues to go the right direction."

Pettitte's previous X-rays came the day the team returned from its West Coast trip, during which Pettitte's ankle became swollen from overuse. The results weren't what Pettitte or the doctors would have liked. While tests on the ankle after two weeks were mostly positive, Pettitte said the four-week check-in on July 27 didn't go as well as the doctors were hoping.

"I think I might have done a little bit too much, and that was frustrating for me and kind of scared me," Pettitte said. "It's just a matter of this homestand, we just wanted to make sure I kind of back off whatever I was doing and just try to let this thing heal up as good as it can."

The swelling around Pettitte's ankle is still bothersome when he walks, and for that reason, Pettitte has been taking it easy during the Yankees' homestand. He shut down his rehab for the first four days after the road trip, and lately, he's been arriving at Yankee Stadium later, swimming in the pool, riding a bike and playing catch in the bullpen off flat ground. He hasn't tried to play long toss or push his activity to the next level after the scare in Seattle.

"I just have no idea as far as how this thing will feel when I lift up and try to load my leg and put all my weight and push down on the mound," Pettitte said. "I just have no idea."

Sunday's X-rays were reassuring, as they gave Pettitte some indication that the bone in his ankle is healing correctly. Pettitte still believes he's on track to return in September, despite the frustrating developments during the Yankees' road trip. He initially suffered the injury on June 27, taking a comebacker off the ankle. Doctors have said from the start that that the injury should take 60 days to heal, but the setback gave Pettitte reason to worry he might have to delay his return. Those nerves can be quelled for the time being.

"You tell the player, 'You're frustrated, but it takes time. You have to let the body do its thing,' Girardi said. "The body never heals quick enough for a player or organization. That's just the bottom line. I think Andy thought that he was going to be back on the mound in three or four weeks, but it's not realistic. In a player's mind, that is realistic."

Yanks won't rule out using Gardner in limited role

NEW YORK -- Yankees manager Joe Girardi said the team would consider bringing Brett Gardner back in a limited role once rosters expand in September.

"If there's a way that he can help us, we'll definitely use him, especially in the month of September, when you can expand rosters," Girardi said. "If there are certain things that he can't do and it's during the month of August, then you kind of limit your roster. But with an expanded roster, if he can help us, we'll definitely use him if it doesn't jeopardize him getting back next year." The outfielder recently underwent arthroscopic surgery on inflamed tissue in his right elbow, causing many to believe his season would likely be over. But on Sunday, Gardner said he thinks he can still come back and contribute at some point this season.

Gardner's struggles in his rehab games earlier this season were mostly due to discomfort he felt while swinging the bat, but his value this season could come on the basepaths, where he swiped 49 bases last season. While he hasn't played since April 17, and the few attempts he's made at a comeback ended unsuccessfully, Gardner could be used as a pinch-runner or a defensive replacement off the bench once rosters expand.

Bombers bits

• While Girardi said nothing is 100 percent, he is 99.9 percent sure that closer Mariano Rivera will not return this season. Rivera underwent surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on June 12 after injuring himself on May 3.

• The Yankees have rebounded well in games following shutout losses this season. Entering Sunday, they had gone 24-9 in such situations since 2008 and had won seven of their last nine such games. Felix Hernandez pitched a two-hit shutout on Saturday in the Mariners' 1-0 win at Yankee Stadium.

• The Yankees are 22-12 in series finales this season, but 7-5 in rubber games of three-game series.