New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter was removed early from his long-awaited season debut Thursday because of tightness in his quad, manager Joe Girardi said.
Jeter will undergo an MRI but also told Girardi that he felt well enough to play Friday. He was replaced by pinch-hitter Brett Gardner in the eighth inning of New York’s 8-4 victory against the Kansas City Royals.
“It just tightened up a little bit, so hopefully it’s not a big deal,” Jeter said. “It’s not frustrating yet. We’ll see. They MRI everything around here. I’m going to get an MRI and we’ll find out, but I hope it’s not a big deal. I don’t ever think anything is a big deal, so I’m hoping for the best.”
Jeter said his quad tightened up during his third at-bat, and added he didn’t think this injury came from pushing too hard in his debut.
“It’s just stiff,” he said. “We’ll find out tomorrow.”
Girardi also is hopeful Jeter’s latest injury isn’t serious.
“We hope it’s not much. We won’t really know until tomorrow,” Girardi said. “Jeet thinks he’ll be able to play tomorrow. Hopefully, it’s nothing, just leg tightness, and he’ll be ready to go.”
After missing the first 91 games of the season while recovering from a fractured left ankle, Jeter was activated from the disabled list prior to Thursday’s matinee and batted second as New York’s designated hitter. He was ecstatic about returning.
“I couldn’t wait. Ever since I got hurt in October, I was thinking about the first at-bat,” Jeter said. “I wanted to get back on the field. That’s what I worked extremely hard for and did all the rehab. Rehab is not easy. It’s not fun. The reason I did it is because I wanted to get back and I wanted to get back on the field.”
After a rousing ovation for his first-at bat, Jeter legged out an infield single in the first inning and came around to score on Vernon Wells’ sacrifice fly. Jeter’s name surprisingly was not announced over the PA system, but a Yankee spokesman told ESPN that was due to technical difficulties.
Jeter reached in his first at-bat when his slow grounder deflected off the bare hand of third baseman Miguel Tejada. Moments later, while running on a pitch, he went first-to-third on a single by Robinson Cano.
In the second inning, 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’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 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,” general manager Brian Cashman said.
The decision to promote him was made sometime after 11 p.m. ET Wednesday when, after discussions with Jeter and Yankees scout Gene Michael, Cashman determined the time was right to activate the star shortstop.
“Our original plan wasn’t necessarily to bring him back today,” Girardi said. “But we’ve been in a kind of a tough situation all year and you get a couple guys who get beat up yesterday, we just felt that if was gonna play down in Triple-A he could play here today, and we’d see what happens.”
Jeter initially fractured his ankle in the 12th inning of Game 1 of last year’s American League Championship Series 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 he 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.