TAMPA, Fla. -- Nothing against the cast of characters that has been taking grounders at shortstop this spring, but Yankees manager Joe Girardi would agree that the lineup cards he has slapped against the dugout wall have lacked a certain star quality at the position.
That was why Girardi was rapping his knuckles extra hard against the round Formica table in his George M. Steinbrenner Field office on Sunday morning, eyeballing his calendar and trying to calculate when Derek Jeter would finally see action in a Spring Training game.
"There's some kind of fake wood inside of there somewhere," Girardi said, trying to pound good luck out of the furniture. "He's doing more and more every day. We'll probably get a better idea next week how close he is."
The Yankees have been saying all spring that they see no reason why Jeter, 38, won't be ready to jog to his shortstop position on Opening Day against the Red Sox and nonchalantly raise his right arm to answer the cries of Yankee Stadium's Bleacher Creatures.
General manager Brian Cashman has circled Sunday as the target date to get Jeter back in the lineup, his first action since fracturing his left ankle in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, but Jeter is the first to admit that there are no guarantees.
"I'm always eager to play, but you've got to keep in mind the goal is April 1," Jeter said. "You've got to be ready to play April 1. That hasn't changed. Trust me, I'll play as soon as I've gotten the OK to do so."
|"Trust me, I'll play as soon as I've gotten the OK to do so."|
|-- Derek Jeter|
And with less than a week to go before Cashman's target date, Jeter shrugs when asked if he will be ready to hit that goal. Even though he will have time to serve as the designated hitter before playing the field, Jeter has still not run the bases at maximum effort.
"I think it's just a feel thing, you know what I'm saying?" Jeter said. "I haven't run full speed yet. I'm sure I'll have to do that before I play. I don't know when that is. I just come in here and ask what we're doing on that particular day."
Behind closed doors, Jeter seems to be just as much a presence as always at Yankees camp, but his on-field activity has been limited to mostly batting practice and non-intensive fielding drills as he tests a surgically repaired ankle that had screws and a plate installed in October.
In the meantime, the Yankees have been sending a rotation of shortstops into the field that has included Eduardo Nunez, Gil Velazquez and Jayson Nix, with a mixed bag of results.
It hammers home Jeter's importance to the Yanks' chances in 2013, and has given the captain some extra time to evaluate the team. Jeter isn't among those who have been concerned with the forecasted lack of home run power in New York's lineup.
"We didn't win with the home runs," Jeter said. "We hit a lot of home runs last year, [but] we didn't win. I think it would be different if we won, and you'd be like, 'How are we gonna win again?' We'll try something different."
In fact, Jeter seems to rather enjoy the idea of a lineup that has the option of playing more small ball -- with pieces like himself, Ichiro Suzuki and Brett Gardner -- instead of waiting for three-run homers.
"I have no problem with that," Jeter said. "We've done that throughout the years. When I first came up, we didn't hit a lot home runs. We won a lot, but we didn't hit a lot of home runs. I know home runs are exciting, but you face good pitching, you're not going to hit a lot of home runs. You have to find other ways to win games. I always liked that part of it."
As anyone familiar with his stubborn reactions to injuries knows, what Jeter doesn't love is watching from the sidelines. Even though he has the option of leaving the stadium once his work is complete, Jeter said that this has still felt like one of his longest Spring Trainings.
"It seems like I've been in Spring Training since November," Jeter said. "I've been at the Minor League complex [in Tampa], so yeah, it's been a long process."
As he gets closer to game action, Jeter is dutifully continuing to follow the program sketched out for him by head athletic trainer Steve Donohue, who holds the most important cards in terms of what Jeter is permitted to do and when.
"I'm good at following directions," Jeter said. "Ever since I was a kid, I followed directions pretty good. But yeah, you're antsy. You want to do things."
Watching the days of Spring Training speed by without an official at-bat or appearance in the field isn't Jeter's ideal way of spending a spring, but Jeter said that he understands why every step is so important.
"Since I've got here, I've learned patience through the years," Jeter said. "I know what our schedule is, and everyone's on the same page when it comes to that. The goal is April 1. Getting in Spring Training games, that's secondary."