Yankees' manager and GM happy to have their Captain back at 100 percent
"It felt nice (to pencil him into the lineup)," Girardi said Thursday morning. "It's been a long time. We hoped it would be Opening Day, but he had the setback. … We always expect Derek to play at a high level, but with the situation that happened last night, we're gonna use him as a DH today."
Just having Jeter back in the clubhouse means a lot to Girardi, who has seen the evolution of The Captain's career as a teammate, adversary, broadcaster, and now manager.
"His presence means a lot. Derek's been a leader and a big part of this team since the day he got here," Girardi said. "I was able to witness him in 1996 and see what his personality and desire to win and unselfishness brought to the team, and I think it's important to have him around." General manager Brian Cashman admitted that Thursday was a "little early" for Jeter's return, but sometimes, circumstances cause plans to change.
"He hadn't completed the full profile we set up for him on his rehab, but I've been staying in touch with Derek and he feels good," Cashman said. "With today's situation (injuries to Brett Gardner and Travis Hafner) and a day game, it was either he could DH in Scranton or he could DH today in New York, so we might as well bring him in and have him play here."
Cashman had no problem with that, though, and neither did Girardi.
"All I had to hear from him was 'hey, I'm ready' and he said that, so I told him to head on back," Cashman said. "Everybody knows this is where he needs to be, and he knew the game plan, but I told him it could be sooner and it turned out that way due to circumstances here in the Bronx last night."
"Sometimes situations happen and you have to be okay with it; in the perfect world he would've played in Scranton tonight, but because of what happened last night we brought him back," the skipper added. "We had talked internally about maybe bringing him back tomorrow and having him play short tomorrow; we could've done it a lot of different ways, so I just thought maybe we DH him Thursday and see where he's at, and go from there."
All that stems from the reports Cashman got saying that Jeter looked like The Captain of old, with nothing hindering his gait on any movements.
"I hear he's moving surprisingly well; you might expect with his age and a double break that he'd lose a step or two, or a half a step, but he's moving extremely well from what I'm told," Cashman said. "I haven't heard anybody tell me he has missed any steps, and with what he's been showing in the limited chances he's had, no one has said it's something different from before - everyone says he's running and moving very well."
Jeter seemed to show that in the first inning Thursday; The Captain hustled down to first in beating out an infield single, swiftly went first-to-third on Robinson Cano's single, and then scored on Vernon Wells' sac fly, all with a huge smile on his face - one that was confirmation of another earlier comment by the GM.
"The feel on this is different; (last time) he wasn't running well and he had some pain, and when we were trying to get an explanation of why, they said it was normal to have some discomfort," Cashman said, "but he's having no discomfort now; he's running and moving really well and there's none of that taking place, so the belief is that's all behind us. If he fouls a ball off the foot and starts hopping around, then we'll maybe worry, but in terms of right now, he seems 100 percent healthy."
But what comes after his return as a DH? Girardi wasn't sure if and when Jeter would make his first start at shortstop - saying "you could see him there tomorrow, but we'll have to see how he feels when he comes in - but did mention that he will have to "be smart" about where and when The Captain plays.
"I don't think Derek would ever put a limitation on himself; I think he'd run himself out there the next 70 games if it was up to him (because) that's just who he is - he wants to play every day," Girardi said. "From that standpoint, we have to guard against rushing him back too much; we have to pick days off and pick DH days (and) it's my job to manage him physically even though he wants to be out there every day. … I'm not so sure exactly how we'll do it the next few days, but we have to be smart about it."
But one thing the skipper won't do, he said, is hesitate to use Jeter because of fear of a setback.
"You can say we brought him along slowly, but we had to wait for a bone to heal, so it wasn't really the timetable any of us wanted," Girardi said. "Once he got clearance to play, he's moved pretty quickly. It hasn't really been that we wanted to be patient, we were just forced to wait due to the new injury."
But as Brett Gardner noted in saying "it felt like just yesterday Jeter wanted to be back on Opening Day," time flies - and just like that, the wait for Derek Jeter is over.