Joe Girardi defends Derek Jeter

NEW YORK -- New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter has had plenty of critics in 2011.

Manager Joe Girardi, however, isn't one of them.

A day after Jeter became the 28th player in Major League Baseball history to reach the 3,000-hit club and capped off a five-hit afternoon with a go-ahead RBI single in the eighth inning of the Yankees' 5-4 win, Girardi continued to come to the defense of his 37-year-old shortstop.

"Is he hitting .320 like he did in 2009? No, he's not," Girardi said before Sunday afternoon's 1-0 win against the Tampa Bay Rays. "But are you convinced that he can't hit .320 in the second half? That would be my question to everyone in here."

"I think that sometimes people are quick to judge on players, and don't always understand what a player's necessarily going through," Girardi continued. "None of us understand what it's like to be pursuing 3,000 hits. I think it was George Brett who said, 'The hardest one to get to is 3,000.' And once he got his 3,000th hit, it didn't take him long to get to 3,003.

"I think he's done a decent job in the leadoff position. I would be careful how quick you are to judge him and doubt that he can still do it because of the way he goes about his business."

Jeter, who is currently in his 16th season in the major leagues, raised his average to .270 after an unforgettable performance on Saturday afternoon.

Still, his on-base percentage is just .331 and his slugging percentage is a lowly .354.

"It didn't take long, huh? One day," Jeter said when a reporter started a question with "at your advanced age."

The reporter continued on by asking Jeter about the criticism he's continued to receive.

"I don't pay attention to it," Jeter said. "It depends on you guys writing it. We'll end on that note."

Jeter has just 17 extra-base hits in 285 at-bats, and prior to going on the disabled list with a strained right calf on June 13, he was hitting .245 in the 32 games since hitting two homers on May 8 in Texas.

Yet Girardi maintains that he's going to keep Jeter at the top of the Yankees' batting order.

"Right now, he's our leadoff hitter. People have talked about when (Nick) Swisher comes back would it be Swish? Well, Swish only heads off against lefties and if you look at Derek's numbers off lefties (.329), they're really good. So would you leadoff of (Brett) Gardner against righties? I'm probably gonna stick with Derek. That's what I'm going to do.

"Gardy struggled the first couple weeks in the leadoff role, and people asked when I was going to move him. Now, people are talking about putting Gardy back there because he's turned around his season and he has, but the one thing I don't want to do is change (the) lineup everyday. It makes it difficult on our players. I might have to move around, but right now Derek's my leadoff guy."

Although Jeter's numbers are far from prolific this season, Girardi thinks that could change. After all, Jeter is hitting .391 in five games since coming off the DL.

"I don't think you can necessarily predict exactly what's going to happen after a month of a player's career, after two months," Girardi said. "Maybe a guy makes an adjustment. We've seen a lot of older guys make adjustments and do really well. I just think because it's New York and it's Derek Jeter, everything he does is under a microscope, when maybe if it's a different city or a different player, maybe it's not talked about as much.

"He did not drive the ball in the month of April, but we saw him start to turn it around in May and June, he was driving the ball. I'm not surprised he came back and was driving the ball again. I'm not surprised."

Mike Mazzeo is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.