Since Jeter sustained the injury sprinting out of the batter's box on June 13, the Yankees are 7-1, including a 4-2 victory over the Reds in the first game of Wednesday's split doubleheader at Great American Ball Park. Jorge Posada returned to big-star status by winning the game with a two-run homer, his first since April 23. Sans Jeter, Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher have been going gangbusters at the top of the order.
"These guys have done a great job in Derek's absence, there's no doubt about it," Girardi said. "Swish has done a great job against left-handers, and Gardy has done a great job against the right-handers. But when Derek comes back, I'll put him in the leadoff spot."
This sounded pretty definitive, just as definitive as Girardi saying after the game that reliever Rafael Soriano will resume his eighth-inning role when he returns from a long-term elbow injury, despite the great work by David Robertson in his absence.
Robertson pitched another scoreless eighth in Wednesday's opener, striking out reigning National League MVP Joey Votto with a runner on first to end the inning. Votto was the potential tying run. Mariano Rivera came on to do what he does best in the ninth, and recorded his 19th save of the season and 578th of his career.
Soriano went down to injury with a 5.40 ERA, having allowed nine earned runs in 15 innings. But he's being paid big money to pitch the eighth and, evidently, that's what he's going to continue to do.
Jeter hit the disabled list hitting .260, 62 points below his career batting average, and has been in a two-year decline. Even if he wanted to do it, Girardi can't slip Jeter to second in the order, not with the 21-homer, 54-RBI season Curtis Granderson has been having. And he's not going to break up his middle-three block of Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano.
Girardi is a player's manager, so he'll make the decision and take any hits for the team.
Perhaps what is most instructive in this circumstance is the events of May 14 at Yankee Stadium. Girardi tried to drop the slumping Posada to the absolute bottom of the lineup in a big game against the Red Sox. The proud Posada, hitting .165 at the time, explained to the media that afternoon he was willing to take it in the chops. But he changed his mind sometime before the game and told Girardi he couldn't play. Relegated from catcher to designated hitter, and struggling to make the adjustment, Posada said he just needed a break.
It became a huge story that lasted several days. Publicly, Girardi handled it great, bridging the gap between a hurting Posada and angry upper management. Girardi said at the time that he believed Posada, nearing 40, could still be a productive player. He has been rewarded in that faith because Posada is now batting .227 and seems to have walked away from the abyss he faced in May.
"We went through a tough period and we all got through it," Girardi said. "I think it all made us better. He's been very good."
Posada had no choice. It was either move his hitting numbers up or move out. Still, it was good to know that the manager had his back.
"He's been in my corner," Posada said about Girardi. "He's been pushing me. It's good to have a guy who's going to be there for you, and he's been doing that for me. It's good to have a manager who really cares for everybody."
Likewise, Girardi may be rewarded by having the same faith in Jeter, who is turning 37 on Sunday. But he can't ignore the numbers of others on the team. Gardner entered Wednesday's second game hitting .434 in his last 17 games. Swisher was humming along at .291 since May 27, with an impressive .455 on-base percentage. In 53 games as the leadoff hitter, Jeter has reached safely in 25 of those games, had a .270 batting average and a .336 on-base percentage.
The Yankees were 36-28 the day Jeter was hurt and 43-29 going into Wednesday's nightcap. No player is bigger than the game.
Girardi, a quick study, was asked what he learned about the entire Posada situation.
"When you go through tough times, when you go through relationships that you put stress on, you always come out better on the other side, I really believe that," Girardi said. "You're always better if you fight to make it better. That's what you have to do. I really believe in the guy."
Hopefully he'll be able to use that in the Jeter affair, he was told. It brought no comment, but a rare Girardi laugh.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.