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Tuesday, April 1
 
Almonte expected to be in lineup Wednesday

Associated Press

TORONTO -- Erick Almonte was unpacking his car, preparing to start his third straight season at Triple-A Columbus, when his cell phone rang.

Rob Thomson, the New York Yankees' vice president of minor league development, told him to get ready: Derek Jeter was hurt.

"I wasn't expecting it,'' Almonte said Tuesday. "I always want to play in the big leagues, I never expected a guy like Jeter to go down.''

Jeter dislocated his left shoulder Monday night and will be out at least a month. The Yankees called up Almonte on Tuesday, and it took some ingenuity to get him to Toronto in time for the game against the Blue Jays.

Almonte drove to Cincinnati on Tuesday morning to meet someone at the airport who brought his passport on a flight from Tampa. Almonte just made his own flight and arrived at SkyDome almost three hours before the game.

Almonte did not start Tuesday but is expected to be in the lineup Wednesday and most of the time that Jeter is out.

"I have to go out and relax and try to do the best I can to help the team,'' he said. "I know it's not a good thing with Jeter injured. I have to go out and play hard and show what I can do and maybe open some eyes so they can see what I can do to help the team.''

Being a minor league shortstop on the Yankees doesn't give a player many opportunities. The 28-year-old Jeter has played at least 148 games every year since 1996 and is under contract through the 2010 season.

Almonte knows that this will be his best chance to show the Yankees -- or another organization -- that he's ready to play every day in the majors.

"It's kind of hard, especially when you're at Triple-A and playing well but you don't have a chance to show it at the big league level,'' Almonte said.

"He's a guy who is a future Hall of Famer. He's my idol. I enjoy watching him play. I watch him play all the time. He's fun to watch. I'm just going to try to do my job and play well.''

Almonte was signed by the Yankees out of the Dominican Republic as an 18-year old in 1996. Once considered a promising prospect, he struggled last season. He hit .235 in 66 games at Triple-A Columbus before being demoted to Double-A Norwich, where he batted .241 in 53 games.

Almonte batted just .182 in 22 at-bats this spring and was set to start his season at Columbus on Thursday. He gets a big raise with the shift, his daily pay rising from $273 with the Clippers to $1,639 -- the major league minimum -- with the Yankees.

"It's tough for a young kid to be a shortstop here,'' Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "We went through it with (Alfonso) Soriano. It's not a very secure spot to be in with a guy signed to a 10-year contract. Sometimes they look ahead too much.''

Almonte, 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, shifted from third base to shortstop in 1998. His future may be at third, especially with Jeter in his way in New York. Soriano had to switch positions two years ago, moving to second base.

Almonte joined the Yankees' organization in 1996, the season Jeter won the AL Rookie of the Year award. He has closely tracked Jeter's career and has learned from him whenever he gets the chance.

"Every time we take groundballs together, he'd always talk to me,'' Almonte said. "He'd tell me what to do, the right way to play the game, to play it hard like he does.''

The Yankees want to make sure Almonte doesn't try to emulate Jeter too much during his time as a fill-in. Jeter said he should just concentrate on his defense and any production will be a plus.

Torre's first advice to Almonte was to relax.

"I don't expect the kid to come in here and be what Derek Jeter is,'' Torre said. "On the Yankees, we probably get more attention than anyone else. This kid will be under a magnifying glass.''

Almonte will get the start Wednesday against Mark Hendrickson even though Enrique Wilson went 2-for-3 with an RBI in New York's 10-1 win over Toronto on Tuesday.

"We have to give this kid a shot to see if he can play at this level,'' Torre said.




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