Jeter came up too sore to play in a minor league game Sunday morning, a day after having taken four at-bats as the designated hitter in a Triple-A game and running at half-speed to first base. In the words of general manager Brian Cashman, "The reality is beginning to set in."
"I don't anticipate him starting the season on the [roster]," Cashman said. "I can read his face, and his face today tells me the reality is starting to sink in that this disabled list situation might be necessary."
The Yankees have been preparing for this since Tuesday, when Jeter was scratched from the lineup at the last minute after experiencing stiffness and soreness in his left ankle, which was fractured in a playoff game last October and surgically repaired with screws and a metal plate.
Since then, Jeter has taken a cortisone shot, which provided temporary relief, and the Yankees decided to play him only in minor league games for the final 10 days of spring training, allowing them to backdate his DL stay to March 22.
That means that if and when he is officially disabled, the earliest Jeter would be able to play in a major league game is April 6, when the Yankees face the Tigers in Detroit in the fifth game of the regular season. And it means Eduardo Nunez is likely to start at shortstop for the Yankees when they open their season against the Boston Red Sox in the Bronx on April 1.
"This is no surprise," Cashman said. "The only newsworthy event out of it is we were hoping he would be ready by Opening Day and more likely than not he won't be. But in terms of the injury progression and what he's recovering from, there's nothing new here other than the fact that on the back-end of the more workload that he's got, he's experiencing soreness. You have to react to that and back off, give it a little more time."
Although Cashman said Jeter's goal remains Opening Day, "I think our goal is now more realistically April 6 at the earliest."
Jeter was terse with the media when he arrived at his locker at 8:30 Sunday morning.
"I got nothing for you guys today," he said.
Asked if he would play in a game Sunday morning, Jeter said, "I don't know."
Cashman pinpointed Jeter's discomfort at the back of his ankle, just above the heel. On Tuesday, Jeter had located the pain as being in the front of his ankle.
"It's just moving around," Cashman said. "I was talking to Derek earlier and he said, 'Listen, I probably compensated on one end and the soreness moves around.'"
Jeter was sent to the minor league complex Saturday to serve as the DH for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Rail Riders, for whom he would lead off every inning and take as many at-bats as he wanted to.
After grounding out four times, three times to third and once to first, and running to first base at barely more than a jog, Jeter called it a day.
"This was just to see pitches, you know,"Jeter said afterward. "Results aren't the most important thing. It's just to see pitches, and that's what I did and we'll move from there."
He also attributed his half-speed running to taking precautions on a slightly slippery field.
"I was cautious because the field was wet," he said. "I almost wiped out a couple of times out of the box."
Cashman said Jeter would not play for the next two days. He has played just 13 innings at shortstop, spread over three games, and never more than five innings in any one game.
Originally, the Yankees had said there was no doubt Jeter would be ready for Opening Day, and have been repeating that throughout spring training until this week when he came up sore and unable to play.
Asked about when the prognosis for Jeter changed, Cashman said: "Well, we were wrong. The time frame I represented was based on what my medical staff tells me. But at the same time, this is an example of this is not an easy sport. This is a very demanding position, and what you're asking for someone to do at age 38, maybe it was a little aggressive. Who knows? He had a great rehab up until the last week."
Now, Jeter will have to demonstrate his ability to play nine innings at shortstop in back-to-back games in extended spring training to be ready to rejoin the Yankees.
"He's a warrior,"Cashman said. "If anybody can do anything, it's Derek. There are some things that just need more time. This season is coming quicker than that leg is going to be ready, in my opinion, so we'll give it the time it needs. That's all we can do."