New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter makes his long-awaited return to the team against the Cleveland Indians today, after rehabbing his strained calf since June 13. Jeter haters have already begun sharpening their daggers and picking spots to poke the Yankees aging star when he comes back.
It's seems almost fitting that Jeter continues his quest for his milestone 3,000th hit on the Fourth of July--George Steinbrenner's birthday. All that's missing are a brass band, Yogi and Yankee Stadium bunting.
Jeter's return does not come without controversy and will shake up the line-ups for the Yankees and American League, respectively.
Oh wait, Jeter is an All-Star. We'll get to that later.
Jeter's replacement at shortstop, Eduardo Nunez, just came off an eye-opening offensive performance in the weekend series against the New York Mets. Nunez went 3-for-4 with two doubles and a home-run in game two.
Nunez's offensive numbers are a slight improvement over Jeter's but it's his fresh legs and potential for improvement that keep him in the mix. He has 10 stolen bases.
Nunez's defensive skills are just plain offensive and there is room for a lot of improvement there. The replacement player has turned even the simplest ground ball to short into an adventure. Nunez already has eight errors and would probably have a couple more if it wasn't for the exquisite glove work of first baseman Mark Teixeira. Still, yesterday's Yankees shortstop, Ramiro Pena, had fans longing for Nunez on the field. Pena's two throwing errors cost the Yankees a victory at Citi Field
Nunez will probably never have the season Jeter had in 2009, when the then-35 year-old Jeter was third in the AL MVP voting, but the potential for a valuable offensive weapon in Nunez is there.
Then there is the problem with The Captain's replacement in the leadoff spot-- Brett Gardner. The speedy left-fielder has cooled off in the past week but has provided the Yankees with a racehorse on the base paths and makes watching the Yankees more fun to watch. He has 20 steals.
Now to the quandary pertaining to Jeter's return and the tough decisions manager Joe Girardi will have to address directly with the prideful Jeter: Where does the aging superstar fit in? A lot has happened over the past three weeks.
It's a given that Jeter will immediately return to the lead-off spot, at least until he gets the historic number 3,000, but how long will that feat take and does Jeter's return shake the Yankees from their recent winning streak. The team did go 14-4 without Jeter putting on pinstripes, so questions about life after 3,000 will persist.
Does Girardi drop Jeter in the order after the big hit or does he take a wait-and-see attitude. Who knows, maybe after the pressure of getting his 3,000th hit, Jeter's mojo could return.
Gardner's and Nick Swisher's numbers were pretty bad up until a few weeks ago, and there were calls for their heads. Girardi didn't cave in to pressure and his decision to let them play has paid off handsomely during the current streak.
Another concern is Jeter himself. Will the player who reluctantly went on the DL for the first time since 2003 publicly admit his calf is still bothering him--especially after all the success the team has had without him. It's hard to imagine Jeter putting himself in rehab ever again.
Jeter was never a player known to whine about or pull himself from playing due to an injury. A trait many admire in a youthful player but could this same stoicism hinder or permanently disable an older Jeter's return. Players who have suffered the same injury claim Jeter, by pushing up his return date, could actually cause more bad than good by a premature return.
While Jeter massaged his sore calf in Tampa, it must have pained him more to see the Yankees kicking the National League's butt and overtake the Boston Red Sox for first place in the AL East. Odds are high, if the calf is slowing Jeter down, he will play through the pain until Girardi pulls the plug.
Expect to see more fireworks after tonight. Here's how Jeter's return will all pan out.
First, Jeter returns to the lead-off spot and gets his 3,000th hit at home against the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday July 8. He slumps in mid-July and gets bumped down in the line-up and takes the demotion like a man. Nunez watches from the dugout because there is no way Jeter is going to sit while the Yankees make a playoff run.
To all the Jeter-haters who think his All-Star selection is a farce due to his numbers and injury-shortened season, get over it. Fans voted him in and want to see the Yankee icon take a bow at the ceremonial game. It could be his last.
Jeter will proudly attends his 12th All-Star game with his 3,000th hit firmly behind him and the starting shortstop position and lead-off spot for the Yankees in hand, only not as tightly.
Jeter went 1-for-2 yesterday in a rehab game for the Trenton Thunder. he had a bunt-single, a walk and a throwing error. He wasn't pleased with his final game before returning to the Yankees. He left the game after six innings to catch a flight to Cleveland.
"I got through it," said Jeter about his time on the DL. "How about that?'