BOSTON -- It took Nick Swisher until April 28 last season -- a span of 22 games -- to hit his first home run. He didn't hit his fourth until June 1, when his batting average sat at .215.
At 30 years old in 2011, Swisher knew he had to play better than that for the Yankees to pick up his $10.25 million club option at season's end. He finished the year with 23 homers and a .260 average, and as it played out, he's back on the Yankees for the final year of his contract.
This year, without the pressure of a pending option -- although he'll be staring free agency in the face after this season -- Swisher has felt more relaxed, he has said, and the results on the field have reflected that.
Swisher already has four homers (his fourth coming in the form of a grand slam during Saturday's 15-9 comeback win over the Red Sox), with career highs in slugging percentage (.583) and OPS (.955).
"One April he got off to a hot start, one April he didn't," said manager Joe Girardi, comparing 2011 to '12. "It's just kind of what happens in baseball. Gosh, I think everyone wished they knew why it happens. Because you do everything you could to prevent a guy from getting off to a slow start, but usually over time, it all equals out."
Adding to his value, Swisher has been a more-than-formidable No. 2 hitter when called upon this season, batting second most days against left-handed pitchers, moving usual No. 2 hitter Curtis Granderson down in the order. Out of the No. 2 spot, Swisher has hit .308 with a .438 on-base percentage in 26 at-bats. He took just 40 at-bats out of that spot all of last season.
Swisher has also stepped it up with runners in scoring position, hitting .308 with 19 RBIs in 26 at-bats.
And as far as tough outs go, Swisher is among the most difficult in baseball. He's seeing 4.07 pitches per plate appearance this year, 14th in the American League, and he's hitting .300 when the count is full.
"I'm just trying to go out there and put a good swing on it," Swisher said. "Whether I'm successful or not, that's not my process. My process is everything leading up to that point.
"Whether I get a hit or I don't, that's not what really drives me right now. It's the process of getting myself ready to go up to the plate every single time."
As for feeling less pressure this season, Girardi hasn't noticed.
"Swish is pretty much the same character every day," Girardi said. "If he felt it, we didn't notice it."
Yanks expect Gardner back after 15 days
BOSTON -- Manager Joe Girardi said he's expecting Brett Gardner to be ready to return from the 15-day disabled list when he's eligible, on May 3, when the Yankees will begin a four-game series in Kansas City.
Gardner, who hurt his right elbow while diving on Tuesday, was hitting .321 with a pair of stolen bases before going down.
"We thought it was his wrist at first, which came up a little bit sore," Girardi said. "But he landed right [on his elbow] and it got tucked under. The big thing is that we don't have a setback -- that the first time he swings, he doesn't feel it."
Girardi is confident the speedy outfielder will be ready when the 15 days are up, though the Yankees won't rush him back. Andruw Jones (against lefties) and Raul Ibanez (against righties) have split the duties in left field during Gardner's absence.
"My thought is he will [be ready]," Girardi said. "If it takes a few more days, it takes a few more days."
Girardi said that he was initially mistaken when speaking to reporters about Michael Pineda on Saturday. While he was unsure at first, Pineda met with a doctor in Tampa, Fla., on Saturday, rather than Monday, and will meet with a doctor in New York on Monday, when the Yankees are hoping to learn more about the right-hander's sore shoulder.
Right-handed reliever Joba Chamberlain, who has been in a cast with a dislocated ankle following an accident on a trampoline, is making strides in his return and should be back in New York to visit with team doctors on Friday, Girardi said.
Asked if he thought the Red Sox would move former reliever Daniel Bard back to the bullpen, Girardi wouldn't comment.
"It's not my worry," he said. "I worry about our starters and our bullpen."
Girardi, who caught a no-hitter from Dwight Gooden in 1996 and a perfect game from David Cone in '99, recalled the nerves after watching Philip Humber toss a perfecto for the White Sox on Saturday.
"Oh, you feel it," Girardi said. "For me, it was about the sixth inning and then it really became a reality, once we got by Vladimir Guerrero the last time. Because with Vlad, you could roll it up there or you could bounce it and he could hit it. You also knew you could expand on him; he was swinging. But there was still that fear that you could make the perfect pitch and somehow he'd find a way to get the barrel to it."
Jason Mastrodonato is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.