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First Pitch: Jeter, Hughes on the road back

3/21/2013
Friday is a big day for both Derek Jeter and Phil Hughes. AP Photo/Matt Slocum

TAMPA, Fla. -- While most of the Yankees are on the long road to Ft. Myers on Friday morning, to play the Minnesota Twins for the second time in 18 hours, two much bigger stories will be playing out in Tampa, one at The Boss, the other at the Yankees' minor-league complex across the street.

Derek Jeter and Phil Hughes, both still hopeful of leaving Tampa with the Yankees when they head north to open the season next week, will be in action, Jeter testing out his troublesome left ankle with some batting and fielding drills, and Hughes testing out his cranky back in a minor-league game.

The success or failure of both those endeavors could go a long way toward determining the success or failure of the 2013 Yankees.

Without Hughes, the Yankees will be forced to carry both Ivan Nova and David Phelps in the starting rotation, at least at the start of the season. Nova allowed four runs in five innings last time out, and Thursday night, Phelps was touched up for five runs, all in the fourth inning, in the Yankees' 6-1 loss to the Twins. Phelps' ERA, which was 0.68 two starts back, is now up to 3.97.

And without Jeter, well, who knows where the Yankees will be. Right now, the odds are that Jeter will start the season on the DL -- the Yankees are preparing for the possibility by moving him over to the minor-league complex for the rest of camp so he can be backdated 10 days from the start of the season and perhaps be ready to rejoin the club for the fifth game of the regular season in Detroit on April 6.

But before that can happen, Jeter's got to get through Friday's drills and bounce back ready to go Saturday. The most disturbing thing of all about his rehab setback is not that it happened -- it's to be expected that an athlete coming back from surgery will experience some soreness -- but the relatively light workload that triggered it. If playing 13 innings over three games in four days caused Jeter to need a cortisone shot, imagine what will happen when the Yankees ask him to put in a full week of nine-inning games.

That's why, while the rest of the team is 150 miles south of Tampa playing the Twins, the eyes of astute Yankees followers should still be focused on Tampa. What happens there Friday will have a lot more effect on what happens to the Yankees this season than anything that happens in Ft. Myers.

UP NOW: My news story on the Yankees' decision to send Jeter to the minors for the rest of camp -- a technicality, but also a necessity if he needs to be DL-ed -- and a column on what this injury could mean for The Captain's future.

ON DECK: The Yankees are sending a pretty full squad to Ft. Myers, including Robinson Cano, Eduardo Nunez, Chris Stewart, Juan Rivera and Nova, to face the Twins, but I'll be back in Tampa watching Jeter and Hughes, and I'll have a full report on their days early in the afternoon. So check in all day and as always, thanks for reading.