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Friday, July 12, 2013
First Pitch: What can we expect from Jeter?

By Wallace Matthews



NEW YORK -- Derek Jeter made his long-awaited return to Yankee Stadium on Thursday, and for the 5 1/2 innings it went as well as could be expected. Jeter had an infield hit, scored a run and drove one in. He looked to be running fairly smoothly in his first three at-bats, and had to run hard on two of them, which he seemed to handle without a problem.

Then came the sixth inning, and a ground out to short that drove in the Yankees' eighth run -- and drove Jeter out of the game.

Now, we wait for the results of an MRI on Jeter's right quad that will tell us whether this comeback, which seemed so promising on Thursday morning, will turn out to be a one-and-done.

Assuming that will not be the case, and that Jeter will be OK to play today, or at worst, be shut down for the weekend to allow him a solid week of rest with the All-Star break coming up, what exactly can we expect from Jeter over the final 65-70 games of this season?

Can we really expect a 39-year-old man coming off two ankle fractures to hit the way he did last season? To play shortstop at the level required in the major leagues on a daily basis, or even five times a week? Or will the Yankees have to feed off his professionalism, his leadership and his determination to win while doing without what he used to give them at the plate and on the field?

It is almost impossible to know from what we saw in his four at-bats on Thursday. He hit the ball on the ground all four times, which is not unusual for him, and only made solid contact once, on the sixth-inning groundout in which he clearly was jogging from home to first. It was virtually impossible to judge timing or bat speed or pitch recognition.

Jeter said he was planning to swing at the first pitch he saw from Ervin Santana, and he did, rolling it over, slowly, to third baseman Miguel Tejada, who couldn't handle it. Not exactly a rope, but a base hit all the same, and Jeter turned it into run by easily going from first to third on Robinson Cano's single and scoring on a sacrifice fly by Vernon Wells.

Certainly, this game was less about production and more about presence. But assuming Jeter is well enough to play on a regular basis, even a presence as influential as his will not be nearly enough.

So the Question of the Day is simply this: How much production do you think the Yankees need out of Jeter to remain in contention? Does he need to hit .300? Can they get by with him as a DH, if necessitated by his condition, or do they need a bigger bat there? In short, will Jeter's presence be enough to elevate the level of the Yankees' game so that they will be in contention for a playoff spot two months from now? Share your opinion in the comments section.

UP NOW: Kieran Darcy has the Rapid Reaction from yesterday's 8-4 victory over the Royals, as well as a blog on Andy Pettitte and all the postgame notes. I've got a column on Jeter's big day that ended on a sour note.

ON DECK: Game 1 of the final pre-All-Star break series, three games against the Minnesota Twins. Hiroki Kuroda (7-6, 2.77) pitches the opener against LHP Scott Diamond (5-8, 5.52), first pitch at 7:05 p.m. The clubhouse opens at 3:20 p.m. and Darcy and I will be there with the lineups and all the pregame news, including the results of Jeter's MRI, so check in often. And as always, thanks for reading.