Jeter's injury-plagued season comes to an end
Yankees captain, limited to just 17 games in 2013, headed back to disabled list
BALTIMORE -- This has long been Derek Jeter's favorite time of the year, when the stakes of each game are raised by the hunt for the playoffs. For the first time in nearly two decades, he will not be able to help the Yankees chase their goals on the field.
The Yankees are continuing their push for the postseason without their shortstop and team captain, having placed him on the 15-day disabled list for the fourth and final time this season on Thursday with a recurring left ankle injury.
"It's very disappointing not to be able to play, especially this time of year. This is when I want to play the most," Jeter said. "Unfortunately, that's not the case. The entire year has been pretty much a nightmare for me physically, so I guess it's fitting that it ends like this."
Jeter was limited to just 17 big league games this year, struggling to recover from a fractured left ankle he suffered during last year's American League Championship Series against the Tigers. He finished the year batting .190 with one homer and seven RBIs.
The 39-year-old has long cemented a reputation as a gamer who detests missing games and plays through pain. It was a telling sign, then, that the disappointed five-time World Series champion agreed with the club's decision to pull the plug on his campaign.
"If you can't play the way you're capable of playing or what you're used to doing, then you're not really helping out," Jeter said.
He played his final game on Saturday against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium, and though he lined a run-scoring single in his final at-bat, Jeter said that he felt unable to move normally in the field or on the bases.
"You feel horrible for him," teammate Andy Pettitte said. "You know how bad he wants to be out there. For him to come out of a game, he was hurt, so it wasn't surprising. I hate it. I hate it for him."
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said that the club had planned to treat Jeter as a day-to-day player for the rest of the season, possibly using him as a pinch-runner or defensive replacement.
After consulting with Dr. Robert Anderson, who performed Jeter's ankle surgery last October, it became apparent that a week to 10 days of rest would not heal the weakness in Jeter's left ankle. The team feared that another fracture could have created a career-ending injury.
"He has done enough for us," Cashman said. "We're not going to jeopardize 2014 by trying to run him out there when he's not in a position to really help."
Jeter has a $9.5 million player option for the 2014 season, and while he said that he had not given any thought to his contractual plans, Jeter left little question that he plans to play next season.
"You don't start thinking about the end just because you have to deal with an injury," Jeter said.
If Jeter is able to take advantage of having a normal offseason to train his legs, a luxury he was not afforded this year, he said that it would make a large difference in his strength and stamina.
"I will never doubt Derek because of who he is," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "If he believes he can get back, I believe him. That's the bottom line."
Jeter had initially targeted an Opening Day return to the Yankees' lineup, but he suffered a new fracture in his left ankle, perhaps from pushing too hard during the Grapefruit League schedule. Jeter called that a "learning experience."
"I'm the one that put dates out there," Jeter said. "I'm the one that said Opening Day."
He made his season debut in a July 11 matinee against the Royals but suffered a strain of his right quadriceps, sending him back to the disabled list. Jeter then returned on July 28 and played in four games before once again going back to the DL, this time with a left calf strain.
Cashman said that placing Jeter on the DL, rather than carrying him on the active roster, was a decision made to save Jeter and the Yankees from each other. With the Yankees hunting for a playoff spot, the temptation to play Jeter on his weakened ankle might have become too great to resist over the next few weeks.
"This is what's best for Derek," Cashman said. "Something's going to give at some point the more we run him out there."
Eduardo Nunez has received the bulk of the playing time at shortstop in Jeter's absence, and defensive wizard Brendan Ryan was acquired from the Mariners on Tuesday night in exchange for a player to be named.
Girardi said that he plans to split playing time between Nunez and Ryan for the remainder of the season. Ryan would not be eligible for the playoff roster if the Yankees qualify, since he was not in the organization on Aug. 31.
As for Jeter, it will be a difficult transition to accept that he is unable to deliver big hits or key defensive plays in the thick of a playoff race. But that has been the case more often than not this season for Jeter, a year that he hopes to never repeat.
"I've had pom-poms for a lot of this season already," Jeter said. "You just try to help out as much as you can, in any way that you can. Root for your teammates. My teammates have rooted for me enough over the years. Now it's my turn."