TAMPA, Fla. -- The Yankees lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates for the second straight day, 8-2 Thursday after losing 6-5 Wednesday in Bradenton, but it mattered not a bit compared with the real news of the day: the successful, if uneventful, return to action of Derek Jeter for the first time since Sept. 7.
In fact, the uneventfulness of Jeter's return was its success, since he was able to do something today he was not able to all of last season: run hard to first base without experiencing pain or -- gulp! -- having to leave the game.
Both to Jeter and to Joe Girardi, that was more important than the fact that Jeter grounded out twice, once into a double play, or that he never got a chance to field a batted ball at shortstop (although he did take a throw from Francisco Cervelli and slap a tag on would-be base thief Josh Harrison to end the fifth inning, and Jeter's day).
"Last year, running seemed to bother him as much as anything," Girardi said. "To me, that was where it was most noticeable last year, when he was running the bases, so to me, that's where it’s going to show up."
Jeter had to run hard in the fourth inning when his bouncer to deep third created a close play at first, and in fact, it looked as if Jeter beat Harrison's throw, although first base ump Tom Hallion called him out. Girardi said that had this been a regular-season game -- or one of the test games that begin March 6 -- he would have tossed the replay flag.
Instead, Girardi was just happy to see that Jeter was capable of running hard from home to first, then still able to go out to play the field the next inning. "That was really good to see, because we haven’t seen that in awhile," Girardi said. "You gotta go back to 2012. So that’s a great sign for us and a great sign for him."
Girardi said Jeter would not play tomorrow in Lakeland against the Tigers but would be back in the lineup Saturday when the Yankees host the Phillies. That should be a huge day at The Boss -- CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka will also see action -- but for Girardi, no bigger than the day on which Jeter returned and nothing spectacular happened.
Despite losing the game, that is something the manager considered a huge victory.
Phelps helps: David Phelps, competing for the No. 5 roster spot, started and went two innings, allowing two hits and a run on a solo home run by Gregory Polanco in the first. Phelps also struck out four of the eight hitters he faced. Girardi was pleased he threw strikes.
Bullpen implosion: Once again, the Yankees' bullpen allowed the Pirates to score in the middle innings. Yesterday it was Chase Whitley allowing four seventh-inning runs; today it was Robert Coello surrendering five in the eighth, including a three-run home run by Mel Rojas Jr.
Good old Yoshi: 38-year-old right-hander Yoshinori Tateyama, acquired last June from Texas, threw 1 ⅓ scoreless, hitless innings today, striking out two. Girardi praised him for his ability to get ground balls with his sinker.
Warren, report! Adam Warren, another of the No. 5 starter candidates -- Michael Pineda and Vidal Nuno are the others -- gets the start tomorrow in Lakeland against the Tigers at 1:05 p.m., no TV or radio. The new guys who played yesterday in Bradenton -- Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran -- are making the trip, as is Eduardo Nunez, recovered from his bout with food poisoning caused by eating salmon in a department store restaurant.
More probables: Girardi told us that in addition to Sabathia starting Saturday -- to be relieved by Hiroki Kuroda and Tanaka -- Nuno will make his second start Sunday against the Blue Jays in Dunedin, and Ivan Nova will go Monday at home against the Nationals. Girardi hinted, but did not say, that Pineda will make his first start Tuesday against the Orioles at The Boss.
Hurting: Lefty Francisco Rondon (tightness in his pitching shoulder) "will be down a couple of weeks" according to Girardi. Righty Jose Ramirez, whose back locked up while warming up yesterday, was sent for MRIs of his back and oblique today. No word on the results yet.