TAMPA, Fla. -- Derek Jeter ranged a few steps to his right, fielded a ground ball with the same form he has used for nearly two decades in the big leagues and threw across his body on a line to first base.
The Yankees' captain laughed his way through a morning workout at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Friday, testing the inflamed left ankle that has placed his Opening Day status in doubt. If the decision were left up to Jeter, he would be playing right now.
"Of course, if I had to," Jeter said. "I don't have to right now, today. There's no game here."
Even if his surgically repaired left ankle was not a concern, Jeter probably would not have been on the list to make the 2 1/2-hour bus ride to play in an Grapefruit League game against the Twins in Fort Myers, Fla.
But after Jeter was scratched from Tuesday's game, sent for precautionary X-rays and an MRI exam, then issued a cortisone injection, the Yankees have stated that they do not plan to have Jeter play in any other games against big league competition this spring.
General manager Brian Cashman said that Jeter will be limited to playing in Minor League games -- the first of which could come as soon as Saturday -- for the rest of his time in Florida, because the Yankees need to preserve the ability to backdate Jeter's injury in the event that he is not able to play on Opening Day.
Teams may place injured players on the disabled list retroactive to a date 10 days before the season opener, so if Jeter goes on the DL, the earliest date he could be activated would be April 6 in Detroit. Jeter said he has been briefed on that situation by the Yankees.
"Oh, I understand it, but I also understand plans change sometimes," Jeter said. "So today was here, tomorrow we'll see what happens and we'll move forward from there. But yeah, I understand it. I didn't understand how it worked until they explained it to me."
Informed of Jeter's comments, Cashman said that having Jeter play against big league competition is not something that is currently on his radar.
"He likes to fight for everything and anything, which I understand," Cashman said. "It's not probably in our best interest for that to happen. You always want to be in a position to preserve the ability -- if he needs to go on the DL -- to backdate it."
Jeter did not appear to be hobbled at all during his brief workout on Friday, in which he took batting practice with a group that also included veterans Ichiro Suzuki, Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner. Jeter sprayed his share of healthy line drives around the outfield grass, killing downtime by joining Ichiro and Hafner in joking about Youkilis' batting stance.
"I'm still trying to figure it out," Jeter cracked with a smile. "It's unique."
Jeter then took ground balls from infield coach Mick Kelleher at shortstop, first on the lip of the grass and then at normal depth. During the first round, Brett Gardner nearly clipped the captain twice, once with a hot liner that flicked off Jeter's glove and again with a grounder that scooted past his ankle.
Gardner later joked that if either of those balls had injured Jeter, Gardner might have been issued his release before the session in the cage ended. Jeter said that he felt he was able to move around the field well.
"You guys know I don't like talking about this kind of stuff; everything's fine," Jeter said. "It's not broken. There's nothing wrong with the tendons. The soreness is going to be there.
"It's going to be there for a while, so you just deal with it. Some days are going to be better than others, but eventually it goes away, so you just get through it as best you can."
Cashman said that he could tell by Jeter's demeanor at a Boys & Girls Club charity event on Thursday that the shortstop's condition was improving.
"I was encouraged when I saw him at the charity event yesterday, because you could see his face," Cashman said. "He was happy. You could see him smiling and stuff, so you knew he was feeling good."
For Jeter to be ready to play on Opening Day, April 1 against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees will want him to prove that he can at least play back-to-back days without any issues, even if he does not play the full nine innings of a Minor League contest.
Jeter said that it will not matter to him if he does not see another big league pitcher this spring, and that he has not been told what his next steps will be.
"I don't know what tomorrow will bring," Jeter said. "My goal is to get back and play as soon as I can, but I don't know. I really didn't do too much today; I didn't run the bases or play a simulated game or anything like that. It's a day-to-day thing."