Here’s the money quote, courtesy of Joe Girardi prior to yesterday’s game:
“There’s always a chance. You just have to see how he does the next three or four days.”
Girardi was answering a question about whether Derek Jeter could return to the Yankees before the All-Star break. The All-Star break that is six days away, mind you. “There’s always a chance. You just have to see how he does the next three or four days.”
The next three or four days? Girardi has always been a classic vague answer guy, which is fine. “We have to see how he feels tomorrow,” or “the important thing is that he feels good,” or “I’m worried about the guys who are in that clubhouse.” Those are the stock Girardi answers when it comes to discussing the return of an injured player. We’ve heard a lot of them this year. “You just have to see how he does the next three or four days” sounds awfully specific considering the source.
* * *
My suspicion that Jeter would be returning to the team sooner rather than later first popped up a few days before that quote. It was hard to ignore that he played five innings at shortstop in his first rehab game with Triple-A Scranton. There was no build up — no three innings with High-A Tampa, then a day at DH, then another day in the field. Nothing like that. The Cap’n skipped like three rehab steps by playing five innings at Triple-A in his first game.
“I’m trying to push to get there today, but I don’t think I can make it today. So it’s whenever they say,” said Jeter jokingly to Ian Begley yesterday. “Really, I don’t know what else to say. I’d like to be there now, but I’m not, so as soon as I’m allowed to get up there, I’ll get up there.”
In his three rehab games, Jeter has gone 1-for-6 with four walks and one strikeout at the plate. He played five innings at short on Saturday, served as the DH for the entire game on Sunday, then played another five innings at short on Monday. The plan is to take today off before returning to shortstop tomorrow, possibly for seven innings. After that? Maybe another day at DH on Thursday, then a full nine innings at short on Friday. Could those nine innings come in the Bronx against the Twins? I think it’s very possible if not downright likely.
“If you think about it, in Spring Training, I don’t think I’ve played nine innings in a Spring Training game in 15 years. So I don’t think necessarily there’s a big difference between seven innings, nine innings,” said Jeter to Begley as he continued to lobby for an early return. “I don’t know what their plan is, but I don’t see that being an obstacle. I think it’s more of just day-to-day, as opposed to how long in a day.”
The Yankees, obviously, need all the help they can get, especially on the left side of the infield. Even if Jeter is only able to play nine innings at shortstop every other day, he’d help the team more than everyone else they’re running out there put together. They especially can use his bat against left-handed pitchers, assuming he returns with some level of offensive competence. Ankle injuries are no joke, they can mess with a hitter’s balance and require more than a one-week rehab stint for full recovery. Just ask Jason Kendall and Stephen Drew how long it took them to return to their previous offensive levels after their traumatic ankle injuries. Heck, look how long it took David Adams to get over his May 2010 injury. He wasn’t himself until 2012.
At this point though, the Yankees are desperate. They’ve waited all season for offensive help and they simply can’t wait any longer. Getting Jeter back a a fraction of his 2012 performance is an upgrade, and don’t think next weekend’s series against the Red Sox in Fenway Park isn’t a factor in the decision making either. You know the Yankees want him back for that three-game set, so getting him what amounts to a few big league tune-up games this weekend against the Twins gives Jeter time to adjust and for the Yankees to further evaluate things. The All-Star break is there in case it’s too much, too soon. Will Jeter be an everyday player right out of the chute? Will the ankle need two or three days off a week? No one will know until he gets up here.
Triple-A Scranton’s lengthy homestand ends on Friday, which sure makes for a convenient end point for Jeter’s rehab assignment. He’ll be able to play in five rehab games before then without having to leave the scenic Scranton/Wilkes-Barre metroplex. A short trip home to the Bronx, three games against the Twins, four days off for the All-Star break, then three against the Red Sox. Sounds like the perfect plan for Jeter’s return, if you ask me.
* * *
Did Girardi tip the team’s hand when discussing Jeter’s potential return yesterday? Maybe. The whole “you just have to see how he does the next three or four days” thing could have easily been a throw-away line he pulled off the top of his head. The circumstantial evidence — the aggressive rehab program, the schedule, the team’s needs — all suggests the Cap’n could rejoin the team this week though, before the All-Star break. And you know what? It wouldn’t be a moment too soon.