TAMPA, Fla. -- Derek Jeter raced out of the dugout for the first time this spring on Wednesday, seeming to travel across the grass with some added bounce as he reclaimed his position for the first time since last year's playoffs.
The captain acknowledged some jitters as he pounded his glove in the middle of the infield, taking a major step in the progression he must follow to be ready for Opening Day, but he is pleased that his surgically repaired left ankle has passed every test so far.
"You get nervous a little bit until you get your first ground ball, your first at-bat," Jeter said, "but once again, that's pretty normal, too. It really just felt as though it was like a first Spring Training game."
After four innings, Jeter departed, with much ground still yet to cover. It wasn't until the fourth inning that he even fielded his first ball, and that was particularly routine, flipping a Ben Revere grounder to second base for a fielder's choice.
"He didn't have a [challenging] play," manager Joe Girardi said, "but it's good to get him out there, it really is. I think you'll see the comfort zone come over him the more he's out there."
Jeter saw more activity on the bases, running from first to third on an Ichiro Suzuki single in the second inning; Jeter did so deliberately, chugging into third base standing.
Even though there was little action to report, the Yankees still felt it was a significant event just to have Jeter standing on the diamond, and they could sense his excitement to be back in the mix.
"It was good. It's always good to see him out there," starter Andy Pettitte said. "He was mouthing the whole time out there. It's all good."
Jeter said it had been "fun" to be on the field; certainly because it has been awkward to keep reporting to George M. Steinbrenner Field and being unable to play, but also because Pettitte was on the hill.
"He was messing with me. Just looking at me," Jeter said. "I was yelling at him to cover first. He threw his hands up on a hit one time. He does that anyway."
Watching on television from the clubhouse before he entered to pitch a breezy fifth inning, closer Mariano Rivera was paying attention to make sure everything looked right with his longtime teammate.
"He didn't get too many ground balls, but I was hoping he didn't get too many, either," Rivera said. "I know Andy was going out there, so he could wear him out, but he didn't. That's good. At least he was there, moving around. Hopefully, he feels good."
So far, Jeter said, he does. Following his offseason rehab, he has no fear that his ankle -- which shattered in pursuit of Jhonny Peralta's 12th-inning ground ball exactly five months prior to Wednesday's game -- is in any danger of being re-injured.
"There's normal soreness. That's expected," Jeter said. "You have to play through it because I haven't been doing things for quite some time, so there's soreness there. As long as the bone is healed, the soreness you can work through."
Girardi has not exactly hammered out a plan for playing Jeter going forward, but he expects to write Jeter's name in the lineup in back-to-back games very soon.
"It seems right when he's out there, and in the lineup and a player for us," Girardi said.
Jeter wants to tick off a few more checkpoints before getting to Opening Day, including stealing a base, running on a 3-2 pitch and having to score from second base.
But he has plenty of time to get to those, and he believes that appearing in about 10 Spring Training games will be enough to prepare for the regular season.
"Like I've told you before, the goal is April 1, and there's steps along the way," he said. "There's other things that you have to do. This was a good starting point."