Derek Jeter returns to Yanks' lineup

TORONTO -- For the third time this season, Derek Jeter was activated from the disabled list. He returned to the New York Yankees' lineup Monday night, batting second and playing shortstop as the Yankees opened a three-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre.

Jeter went 0-for-3 with a walk, strikeout and grounded into a double play in New York's 5-2 loss.

"He looked fine," manager Joe Girardi said after the game. "Everything looked OK to me."

Since fracturing his left ankle last Oct. 12 in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers, Jeter has made two aborted attempts to return to action and both times suffered injuries that sent him back to the disabled list. He had played just five games all season.

Jeter went on the disabled list with a right quad strain July 12 after playing in just one game, then returned to the DL with a right calf strain Aug. 3 after playing in just four more games.

But now, with the Yankees trying to close the gap between themselves and an AL playoff berth -- they finished the day 4½ games behind the Oakland Athletics for the second wild-card spot -- they are hoping their 39-year-old captain can remain healthy over the final 32 games of the season.

And so is Jeter.

Asked to express his feelings about being back with the Yankees, Jeter said, "Excited. Looking forward to it. Anxious. Happy. What else could you ask?"

Jeter completed his latest rehab assignment Saturday, playing his third game in three nights for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he batted .333 (3-for-9 with a double and two runs scored). He flew to Toronto ahead of the team and arrived Sunday night, while the Yankees were winning an 11-inning game against the Tampa Bay Rays, 3-2, to keep alive their hopes for a wild-card spot.

But Jeter was typically noncommittal when asked how he felt about his team's chances to make the playoffs after falling as many as 11 games behind the Red Sox in the AL East.

"We've got a great chance to win a game tonight. That's it," he said. "That's all you can think about. It sounds simple, but that's what I told the guys before I left.

"Every game we play is a playoff game. That's the only thing we can control, and that's what we're doing. We face the guys we're trying to catch, at least most of them. The only thing we have control over is this one tonight."

According to Girardi, Jeter has been advised to run "under control" to avoid reinjuring himself.

"He's just got to be smart out there," Girardi said.

Jeter defined "being smart" as doing whatever is necessary to make it to the base safely.

"I'll do whatever gets me there safely," he said. "I guess the game will dictate it. I don't really think you can play not to get hurt. I think that's when you do get hurt."

Jeter strained his quad breaking from the batter's box in his third at-bat of his first game for the Yankees after having missed the first 91 games of the season. After coming off the disabled list, he played a big game against the Rays on July 28, including homering on the first pitch he saw, but complained of pain in his calf the very next day.

Still, he traveled to the West Coast with the Yankees and played in three more games before being sent back to the disabled list with the calf strain. It raises questions about whether his body will be able to stand up to the grind of every-day play at shortstop. Jeter is the oldest starting shortstop in baseball.

"Well, I tried to be [careful with Jeter ] when he came back, and I'll try to continue to be that way," Girardi said. "But sometimes you can't afford to do it."

Girardi said that as long as Jeter is healthy, he intends to play him on a regular basis.

"Your hope is that you can keep him out there as much as you can over the next 32 games, and keep him strong and healthy," he said.

Neither the manager nor player expressed any qualms about having Jeter return on the unforgiving artificial turf at the Rogers Centre, a surface that usually prompts the manager to give his older players at least one day off during every series here.

"I know it's turf but it's not the turf of old,'' Girardi said. "I think it's a little easier on your body than the turf of old. Besides, if a player's ready, you bring him back."

"You're asking the wrong person because I don't like missing games period, no matter where we play," Jeter said. "I think I've missed more games to injury this year than in 20 years combined."

Apart from 2003, when he separated a shoulder on Opening Day in Toronto and played in just 119 games, Jeter has averaged 153 games played in 16 of his 18 seasons. In the five games he has played this season, Jeter is batting .211 with a home run and two RBIs.

Still, his return to action, along with the recent returns of Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson and the trade-deadline acquisition of Alfonso Soriano, gives the Yankees their most formidable lineup of the season at a time when they need it the most.

"It's nice to have him back in the lineup," Girardi said. "Down the stretch, you want a complete lineup, and this is as whole as we've been all year."