Derek Jeter took the first step in his return to the New York Yankees from a calf strain, going 1 for 2 with a walk and cleanly fielding five balls at shortstop in five innings for Double-A Trenton Saturday.
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Jeter will play one more rehabilitation game with the Thunder on Sunday night and likely will be in the Yankees’ lineup on Monday in Cleveland, where he will continue his pursuit of 3,000 hits.
”The plan is to get him there Monday in Cleveland if everything goes right,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. ”Yeah, I’d think he’d play Monday.”
Jeter pronounced himself all but ready to go, and even might have played in New York on Sunday if the Yankees weren’t playing a day game.
”I feel good, there are no problems whatsoever,” he said. ”It’s just getting at-bats and playing. I did a lot. I ran the bases. I had to move around on defense. I’m happy with how everything went.”
Batting in his customary leadoff spot, Jeter singled to left on a 2-2 pitch in the first inning. He went to third on Corban Joseph’s double down the right-field line and scored on top prospect Austin Romine’s sacrifice fly to center to give Trenton a 1-0 lead over Altoona, showing no ill-effects of his calf injury while running the bases.
In the second, Jeter stroked a 3-2 pitch toward right field but was robbed of a likely RBI hit when first baseman Matt Curry dived to his left and snared the hard-hit liner.
Jeter walked in the fifth and was replaced by pinch-runner Jose Pirela. Cashman said Friday night that he would monitor Jeter and communicate with the Thunder’s manager.
”He looked great, he looked really good,” Cashman said. ”Better at the plate than you expected. … This day couldn’t have gone any better.”
Said Jeter: ”I felt better than I thought I would. You can’t duplicate anything you do in a game. Until you get in a game, you won’t know until then.”
Just as at Yankee Stadium, Jeter was introduced for his at-bats with a recording of longtime PA announcer, the late Bob Sheppard.
Jeter was perfect on all five of his chances in the field. His best play came in the fourth when he ranged to his left on a grounder up the middle, picked it up just in front of the outfield grass before spinning and throwing just ahead of the runner, a play that tested his calf.
”The ball up the middle where you have to spin and throw off balance that was a test,” he said.
The Yankees captain is six hits shy of 3,000 and is vying to become the 28th major leaguer to reach the milestone. He is batting .260 in 62 games this season.
Jeter, the Yankees’ all-time hits leader, was placed on the disabled list on June 13 with a right calf strain. The 37-year-old was eligible to come off the DL on Wednesday, but didn’t because of his slow recovery. He has missed 17 games and the Yankees are 14-3 without him. The shortstop said the toughest part about sitting out is regaining his timing.
”We play this game every day for a reason,” he said. ”You have to get into a rhythm. You take three weeks off, you’re off a little bit.”
After three games in Cleveland, New York returns to the Bronx on Thursday for a four-game series against Tampa Bay.
Both Jeter and Cashman shrugged off questions about whether Jeter might be held out of games in Cleveland in order to reach 3,000 at Yankee Stadium.
”You’re way, way ahead of yourself,” Jeter said. ”It’s not like people are putting the ball on the tee and saying, ‘Go ahead, get a hit.’ You can’t speculate. It’s not easy to get one hit, let alone six. … As much as I’d like the hit today to count, it doesn’t.”
The Thunder issued 70 media credentials to Saturday’s game, second only to the 150 needed during Roger Clemens’ rehab start on May 23, 2007, according to Thunder spokesperson Bill Cook.
The crowd of 9,002 at Waterfront Park was the second-biggest in franchise history, trailing only the 9,134 who watched Clemens.
Jeter arrived in a silver Cadillac at 3:10 p.m. He took the field a little more than an hour later to the delight of the hundreds of screaming fans squeezing as close as possible to the field for batting practice.
Following warmups, Jeter signed autographs for nearly 15 minutes before retreating to the dugout.
Jeter last played in Trenton on his last trip to the DL, during the 2003 season. He batted .444 (8 for 18) with a double, triple and five RBIs during a five-game rehab stint.