TAMPA, Fla. -- Derek Jeter has played his last preseason game with the New York Yankees this spring, but that does not preclude the 38-year-old shortstop from being on the field when the club opens its regular season against the Boston Red Sox on April 1.
It does, however, preserve the right of the Yankees to place him on the disabled list, backdated to March 22, if it's determined Jeter needs more time to recover from the setback he experienced this week while rehabbing his surgically repaired left ankle.
Under baseball's collective bargaining agreement, a player can be placed on the DL as many as 10 days before the season opener, as long as he does not play in any preseason games with the major league club. He can, however, play in minor league games, which is what Jeter will do during the final 10 days of camp.
The Yankees took similar measures with Jeter in 2001, when he pulled a quadriceps muscle during spring training and was placed on the DL retroactively. He missed the first four games of the regular season, and the Yankees' Opening Day shortstop that year was Luis Sojo, marking the only time Jeter has not started a Yankees season opener since 1996.
This year, Jeter would be eligible to come off the DL on April 6 and would be able to participate in the Yankees' fifth game of the season against the Tigers in Detroit. Presumably, Eduardo Nunez would be the Yankees' starting shortstop in Jeter's absence.
Neither Cashman nor Jeter, however, is ready to concede that Jeter is headed to the DL. In fact, Jeter said he could play Thursday night if needed.
"If it ain't broke, you can play, and it ain't broke," Jeter said. "So if I had to play, I would play."
Jeter suffered stiffness and soreness in his left ankle, which was fractured in October and surgically repaired a week later, during warm-ups before a preseason game against the Phillies in Clearwater. He was a late scratch from the game and was sent for X-rays, which came back negative, and an MRI, which showed some minor inflammation in the ankle.
"Everything is fine," Jeter said in the Steinbrenner Field clubhouse before the Yankees' game Thursday night against the Minnesota Twins. "Ligaments, bone, everything is perfect. It's just that this is what happens after you have surgery."
Jeter said the soreness, located at the front of his ankle, had subsided, although he expected it could be an ongoing issue throughout the season.
"It's not going to go away," he said. "It's not going to just magically disappear if I take off two days or three days. It's something you've got to deal with."
Jeter has appeared in five games this spring, two as a designated hitter and three at shortstop, but has yet to play more than five innings. The setback he suffered Tuesday followed a day off but came the first time he tried to play after having played in back-to-back games Saturday and Sunday.
He said he felt well enough to resume baseball activities but had yet to be cleared to do so by the Yankees.
"I do what I'm told," Jeter said.
He is still holding out hope, he said, to be the starting shortstop for the Yankees on Opening Day and said he would be disappointed if he was not.
"I'm disappointed whenever I don't play," Jeter said. "Like I told you guys, my goal is Opening Day. That hasn't changed. Nothing has changed from my point of view. My job is to try and be ready on Opening Day, and that's what I'm going to continue to do."