Stopped short: Jeter sidelined again
So much for Derek Jeter's comeback — at least for the moment. Rushed to the Bronx after just four games of a rehab assignment for his first regular season action since fracturing his left ankle last Oct.13 and then suffering a subsequent crack this spring, the 39-year-old Yankees captain didn't even make it through a full nine innings as a designated hitter without issue. Running out a groundball in his third plate appearance during the fifth inning of Thursday's game against the Royals, he suffered a Grade 1 strain of his right quadriceps, an injury that raises questions about the Yankees' sudden deviation from their typically conservative approach to bringing back injured players.
Without a doubt, Thursday's injuries to DH Travis Hafner and centerfielder Brett Gardner, though minor, compromised an already thin roster and accelerated Jeter's timetable even beyond an initial plan to bring him back this Friday instead of next. While he had been "running all over the place the last three weeks,” to use his words from his postgame press conference, his legs likely weren't back to game shape. In his three games at shortstop at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, he had yet to play a full nine innings in the field, a hurdle that nearly every rehabbing position player is expected to clear, with doing so on back-to-back days generally preferred. While he was DHing on Thursday, the intermittent action that comes with the position creates its own problems when it comes to staying loose.
Jeter won't go on the disabled list, at least not yet. He will miss this weekend's series against the Twins in the hopes that he can be ready for the Yankees' first game after the All-Star break, which comes on Friday, July 19 in Fenway Park. Had the Yankees left him in Scranton, he could have played in as many as six games before that: Thursday, Friday, two on Saturday and one next Thursday. He almost certainly wouldn't have played every inning in all of those, but he could have gotten around 20 to 25 additional at-bats under game conditions and worked his way up to a full nine innings in the field before returning to New York's lineup.
Yankees shortstops had hit an abysmal .211/.269/.283 this year prior to Jeter's activation, but the return of Eduardo Nunez from an oblique strain earlier this week constituted a significant upgrade itself, lessening the urgency of his return. Nunez is 6-for-19 in six games, and had played error-free in the field until booting a groundball on Thursday, one that proved inconsequential from a scoring standpoint.
Even with his compressed schedule, Jeter's afternoon had gotten off to a promising start. On the first pitch of his first plate appearance, he hit a chopper to third base that Miguel Tejada was forced to eat, and looked to be near full speed while running out his infield single. He went first-to-third on Robinson Cano's single and then cruised home with the Yankees' first run on Vernon Wells' sacrifice fly, starting the Yankees' comeback victory. Alas, he didn't get the ball out of the infield in any of his other three trips to the plate, and he strained his quad during the one in which he ran hard in the fifth inning. He ran to first at significantly reduced speed in the sixth, and departed in favor of a pinch-hitter (Gardner) when his turn came up in the eighth. Here's the full "highlight" reel from MLB.com:
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Though Jeter was optimistic after the game, he also knew what was in store. "Well, it’s not frustrating yet,” he said after the game. "We’ll see. They M.R.I. everything around here, so, they want me to get an M.R.I. and find out. I hope it's not a big deal." The Yankees will reevaluate his injury during the break. If he needs to return to the DL, a retroactive move would leave him eligible to return on July 27 — likely with another stop in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and this time, presumably with the benefit of a full nine innings on his feet.