Derek Jeter said his left ankle was well enough for him to play shortstop Friday night — and told Yankees manager Joe Girardi as much. But he still found himself in the designated hitter slot for a second straight game.
After aggravating the bone bruise Wednesday, while running out a grounder in Boston, Jeter insisted the injury was "no big deal." The Captain was so insistent he repeated it about half a dozen times to reporters even after he was escorted off the field by Girardi and the team trainer.
Jeter backed up his own diagnosis by getting two more hits last night against the Tampa Bay Rays, but Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman are casting a far darker shadow on Jeter's condition. Both suggested that their star player's injury could nag him for the rest of the season.
"He's banged up, but he's playing through it," said Cashman before Friday night's game. "We want him to get better, but it's one of those things it's hard to get better (while you're playing). I think we're going to have to help him manage it to the degree that we can."
"We have to help someone manage through it, when it's someone who doesn't want help," he added.
Jeter batted lead-off last night and went 2-for-4 with a run — passing Willy Mays for 10th on the all-time hit list — but the hitch in his giddy-up still looked like it could linger the rest of the season.
"I haven't heard the doctor say that, but in my mind, that's what I believe. It could take a while," said Girardi. "Could it get better as time goes on? Sure. But a lot of it probably depends on how he lands on it or lunges. It could take a while."
Convincing the hobbled Jeter to trade in his shortstop position for the DH spot is already hard enough for his handlers — especially in the midst of a September playoff run — and the GM and manager both know it will take a team effort to keep him from sitting out any games.
"If we want to help Derek Jeter, we have to win as many games as possible, so we can rest him," Cashman said. "But Derek Jeter would tell you, 'If you want to help me, shut the blank up, let me play, write my name in the lineup and let me get my hits and help us win."
Jeter's fill-in at shortstop, Eduardo Nunez, has played admirably, but still made a crucial error in last night's 6-4 loss. He misplayed a routine grounder that led to a Rays' insurance run in the ninth inning. Girardi can only wait and grind his teeth.
"You got to manage the frustration," he said. "You don't want that one [Nunez's error] to snowball."
Girardi said he would check with the 38-year old Jeter on a daily basis and decide if the injury is really "not an issue."
"I can look him in the eyes and I can usually tell," he said.
While Jeter is itching to get back on the field, he said he won't let his own stubbornness overrule reason — or his bosses.
"I always want to play," he said. "But I'm going to do what they tell me to do."
"I've told [Girardi] I could play shortstop when he first took me out of shortstop. Nothing has changed, really," said Jeter. "I've always said if you're in the lineup, then you don't talk about (injuries)."