- Wallace Matthews, ESPN Staff Writer
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NEW YORK -- The Captain is back.
New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who had missed the first 91 games of the season with a fractured left ankle, went 1-for-4 with an RBI in his return to the lineup Thursday afternoon against the the Kansas City Royals.
Batting second as the club's designated hitter, Jeter reached on an infield single in his first at-bat when his slow grounder deflected off the barehand of third baseman Miguel Tejada. Moments later while running on a pitch, he went first-to-third on a single by Robinson Cano.
When Jeter stepped to the plate, he received the expected rousing ovation but his name was not announced over the PA system. A Yankees spokesman told ESPN there was no announcement due to technical difficulties.
In the second, Jeter grounded out to Tejada, who easily threw him out at first. He was robbed of a single in the fifth by second baseman Johnny Giavotella, who made a diving stop on a grounder. He added an RBI in the sixth, grounding out sharply to shortstop.
Jeter was pinch hit for by Brett Gardner in the eighth.
Jeter's return came as a bit of a surprise; the Yankees had said they needed to see the 39-year-old play back-to-back games at shortstop in the minor leagues before promoting him to the majors.
But unforeseen circumstances -- both center fielder Gardner and designated hitter Travis Hafner were injured Wednesday night -- and the team's recent struggles caused the Yankees to jump their own schedule for Jeter's return.
"We're better with him here, period,'' said general manager Brian Cashman.
The decision was made sometime after 11 p.m. ET Wednesday night when, after discussions with Jeter and Yankees scout Gene Michael, Cashman determined that the time was right to bring Jeter back to New York.
"It means a lot to have him back,'' manager Joe Girardi said. "Derek's a leader and a big part of this team from day one, from the day he got here. I was able to witness him in 1996, what his personality brought to the team, his desire, his unselfishnness, and I think it's important to have him around.''
But Cashman admitted Jeter was being brought back sooner than the Yankees would have preferred.
"He hadn't completed the whole profile we had set up for him in his rehab, but he roster changes that occurred in the game last night made us do some adjustments along the way,'' Cashman said. "He'll have to finish off his rehab in the big leagues.''
Jeter initially fractured his ankle in the 12th inning of Game 1 of the ALCS against the Detroit Tigers on Oct. 12. He underwent surgery a week later to mend the fracture with screws and a steel plate.
Jeter and the Yankees both insisted he would be ready to return by Opening Day, but he suffered repeated setbacks in spring training and was eventually shut down when it was revealed that he had suffered a new fracture in the same ankle.
Jeter was cleared to resume baseball activities last week, and played four rehab games with the Yankees Triple-A affiliate at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, going 1-for-9 with four walks and two runs scored. In his final rehab game Wednesday night, Jeter went 0-for-3 and made a throwing error.
But once again, he never played back-to-back games at shortstop nor has he played more than five innings in the field. But with the Yankees suffering an inordinate number of injuries this season -- they have had 16 players on the disabled list this season -- it was determined that the rewards of having Jeter back would outweigh the risks.
"He expects to play every day, and from that standpoint, I think we have to guard from rushing him back too much,'' Girardi said. "In the perfect world, you'd have a month of spring training, but this has not been a perfect world this year with some of the things we've had to deal with. So it's my job to manage him physically even though he's going to want to be out there every day. We just have to be smart about it.''
Information from ESPNNewYork.com's Ian Begley and The Associated Press was used in this report.
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