We all know what’s going on here. Hal Steinbrenner, Hank Steinbrenner, Joe Girardi, Jay-Z, LeBron James, Rudy Giuliani, Billy Crystal, Spike Lee — a lot of really rich and influential people would love nothing more than to see Derek Jeter get his 3,000th hit. And fast.
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It’s going to happen, sooner rather than later. He has 2,994 right now. Really, there is one question left when it comes to this milestone: Does it, or does it not, occur at Yankee Stadium?
Jeter returned from the disabled list Monday after missing three weeks with a right calf strain. He went 0 for 4. Girardi, his manager, said he looked “OK.” That sounded about right. Assuming he doesn’t get there in the final two games in Cleveland, Jeter will have the next four games for his Make It Happen At Home campaign, and an excellent chance to make history in the Bronx.
But I will say this: He came back against the wrong team — or at least the wrong part of the wrong team’s rotation.
Jeter has a pretty sharp platoon split this year. He entered the week with a quiet .592 OPS against right-handed pitching, compared with .808 when facing left-handers. And it just so happens that the Yankees are facing three stingy righties in their series against the Indians: Josh Tomlin on Monday, Carlos Carrasco on Tuesday, Justin Masterson on Wednesday.
Jeter didn’t look particularly impressive against Tomlin in Monday’s 6-3 loss, but he was hardly unique among New York hitters in that regard. Tomlin’s precision, combined with the early-evening shadows, made for many uncomfortable swings.
“I don’t think he threw me a ball over the plate the entire day,” Jeter said. “He knows what he’s doing.”
More specifically, Tomlin didn’t allow a hit until the seventh inning, and he didn’t permit any right-handed batters to reach base via hit or walk. He threw four pitches for strikes. Tomlin also became the only major league pitcher since 1919 to begin his career with at least five innings pitched in his first 29 outings.
But here’s the bad news for Jeter: The radar guns say that the next two pitchers in Cleveland’s rotation have better pure stuff. In fact entering Monday, right-handed batters had more success against Tomlin this year (.220) than Carrasco or Masterson (.189 each).
“How Masterson’s been pitching is unbelievable,” Tomlin said. “He’s tough on anybody — righties or lefties. (Carrasco) has unbelievable stuff — four swing-and-miss pitches. He’s been lights-out for us. He goes after guys. It’s tough to pick him up.”
And it’s not as if it will be much easier for Jeter against the bullpen. Four relievers — Tony Sipp, Chris Perez, Frank Herrmann and Vinnie Pestano — are holding right-handed batters to averages below .200 this year.
Jeter’s last, and best, at-bat on Monday was a five-pitch encounter with Pestano in the eighth, culminating in a lineout to shortstop.
“It got better as the game went on,” Jeter said of his at-bats. “I was nervous at the beginning, you know? It was almost like Opening Day again. I hadn’t played in a while.”
Perhaps most importantly, Jeter said after the game that he feels “fine” physically. He’s expected to play again Tuesday. There’s always the chance that he will make the alarmists look silly by rapping three hits against Carrasco.
Derek Jeter is still Derek Jeter, even if he is 37.
“His timing might have been a little off,” observed Bruce Fields, the Indians’ hitting coach. “His swings looked pretty good. I don’t think it’ll take him long, and he’ll be right where he needs to be.”
And yet, Fields has watched a number of excellent hitters struggle against the Cleveland staff this year.
“It’s a great mix of pitchers, in terms of how we can match up,” he said. “It makes it tough on hitters. But it’s Derek Jeter. Nothing would surprise me.”
Jeter has made a career out of delivering, on schedule and often heroically. Now he has six games to get six hits before the start of an eight-game trip. Can he do it?
“I think so,” Tomlin replied, sounding increasingly confident the more he thought about it. “He’s going to get it in New York. He’ll do it before the break.”
Seeing as how Tomlin was spot-on with everything else Monday, I’ll take his word for it.
But what happens if The Captain goes 0-for-Cleveland?