NEW YORK (AP) — Derek Jeter stepped into the batter’s box at Yankee Stadium for the first time in nine months, and the crowd rose as one and cheered.
The captain was back.
Jeter reached with an infield single on his first pitch following the long layoff, immediately testing his healed left ankle Thursday in the first inning of the New York Yankees’ series finale against the Kansas City Royals.
Jeter didn’t acknowledge the fans as he made his long-awaited return. He turned on a 95 mph fastball from Ervin Santana and sent a three-hopper up the third-base line that fell from Miguel Tejada’s throwing hand.
Fans chanted “De-rek Je-ter! De-rek Je-ter!” as the 39-year-old shortstop ran up the line well past first base, then returned to the bag. The ankle got more tests when he raced to third on Robinson Cano’s single up the middle and came home without a throw on Vernon Well’s sacrifice fly to right.
Jeter was the designated hitter and batted second in his first big league game since he broke his left ankle during the AL championship series opener Oct. 13. He said after the initial injury he would return by opening day, then fractured the ankle again in April during his rehabilitation and missed the first 91 games of the season.
Jeter had not been introduced at Yankee Stadium by Bob Sheppard’s recording in 271 days, since he sprawled onto his stomach while trying to field Jhonny Peralta’s 12th-inning grounder up the middle, immobile on the infield dirt and yelled out in pain. He hobbled off the field on his good ankle, one arm draped around manager Joe Girardi and the other around trainer Steve Donahue.
New York cut short his rehabilitation assignment in the minor leagues after just four games following injuries Wednesday night to Travis Hafner and speedy Brett Gardner.
“He can DH tonight in Scranton or he can DH today in New York,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. “Might as well bring him in and DH him in New York.”
Cashman made the decision when he was driving home after New York’s 8-1 win Wednesday’s and spoke with Jeter by phone. Jeter went 1 for 9 in his tuneup at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, including 0 for 3 with a throwing error during seven innings Wednesday night.
Girardi said Jeter is likely to start at shortstop for Friday’s series opener against Minnesota.
“I think Derek would run himself out there the next 70 games if it was up to him,” Girardi said. “I mean, that’s just who he is. He expects to play every day. So from that standpoint I think we have to guard against rushing him back too much, and we have to pick days off, and we have to pick DH days. In the perfect world, you have a month of spring training, but this has not been a perfect world around here this year.”
Jeter did not speak with reporters before the game.
Cashman said former GM Gene Michael was at Wednesday’s game and gave a positive report on Jeter’s mobility. Girardi said he expects Jeter “to be the Derek that he was last year. There’s nothing that tells me right now that he can’t be.”
A 13-time All-Star with a .313 career average, Jeter hopes to jolt a batting order that is next to last in runs in the AL. The Yankees started Thursday fourth in the AL East at 49-42.
Six players have appeared at shortstop in his absence, hitting a combined .211 with two homers and 25 RBIs, according to STATS. Only Seattle shortstops had a lower batting average.
New York hopes to get third baseman Alex Rodriguez back this month following January hip surgery and center fielder Curtis Granderson next month after his broken pinkie has healed. First baseman Mark Teixeira is out for the season following wrist surgery.
Rodriguez began Thursday 2 for 15 (.133) with one RBI in six minor league games for Tampa and Charleston, both Class A farm teams. Cashman said Rodriguez will be given the full 20 days of the rehab assignment, which runs through July 21.
“There’s a reason he’s in A-ball, and there’s a reason we were able to put Derek in Triple-A right from the start, because Derek was obviously much farther along,” Cashman said.
NOTES: The Yankees cleared a roster spot by designating 1B Travis Ishikawa for assignment. … Hafner bruised his left foot and Gardner his right leg when he was hit by a pitch for the second time.