The Yankees' captain admitted before Thursday's game that he would have preferred those at-bats to have been at Yankee Stadium against the Blue Jays. Instead, he batted second and played shortstop for the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders against the Pawtucket Red Sox at standing-room-only PNC Park, beginning his third rehab assignment of the season.
"I lost all my bargaining power because last time I came back and got hurt. So there's not much I can say," he said with a smile after completing his pregame warmups. He was referring to injuring his quad on July 11, his first Major League game of the season after playing four games with the organization's top affiliate.
Jeter, 39, is on the disabled list for the third time this year. He missed the first half of the schedule recovering from offseason ankle surgery. In his first game back he injured the quad and went back on the DL. When he returned he played four games before going back to the DL with a Grade 1 calf strain on Aug. 3.
So, introduced to the taped voice of the late, great Bob Sheppard -- Now batting for the Yankees, No. 2, Derek Jeter! -- he did what he could to convince the Yankees brass that he's ready to join the stretch drive, already in progress.
He said he was satisfied.
"I feel good. It always feels good to get a hit," he said. "But the most important thing is to make sure it's good physically. I want to get back as soon as possible, but I understand there's a process to it."
After the double against PawSox knuckleballer Steven Wright, Jeter advanced to third on a swinging bunt by Melky Mesa and score easily when RailRiders cleanup hitter Dan Johnson doubled to center.
In the third, Jeter came up after Brent Lillibridge led off with a single to left. He attempted a bunt on the first pitch, but the ball rolled foul then hit a bouncing ball up the middle. Pawtucket second baseman Brock Holt gloved the ball and stepped on second for the force. His throw to first beat Jeter by a wide margin, but bounced away from first baseman Mark Hamilton.
Mesa then grounded into a force play, with Jeter sliding carefully into second to help break up the potential double play. "[Running] felt fine," he said. "I've been doing a lot of running down in Florida before I came back here. Everything is a little different when you're in games, but there were no issues. I had no problems [with the slide]. I think it's natural when you first come back to be a little hesitant. You have to go through certain things. I think it's like that any time you come back from an injury. That's the normal progression."
In the top of the fourth, Jeter was charged with an error when a two-out grounder up the middle by shortstop Heiker Meneses glanced off his glove. Two runs scored on the play.
"I don't know what happened. I didn't catch it," he said. "I wish I had an explanation for you. It really was easy. It just hit off the end of my glove. I don't know if I took my eye off it. I'm not sure, but yeah, that shouldn't happen."
In his only other defensive chance, Jeter charged a slow roller by PawSox second baseman Brock Holt and flipped to first to retire the runner for the final out of that inning.
His last at-bat came with catcher Bobby Wilson on second and two outs in the fifth. After falling behind 0-2, Jeter stayed alive by fouling off a couple pitches then bounced a grounder up the middle. Holt made a diving stop but Wilson was able to score all the way from second.
Jeter is expected to play for the RailRiders again on Friday night, with speculation that he could rejoin the big club in time for Saturday's game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Jeter jokingly said he couldn't even confirm that he'd play more than the five innings he was in for Thursday night.
"I don't know, man. They don't tell me anything," he said, laughing.
He said before the game he feels he's ready to return to the Yankees lineup, especially since the team has played well enough recently to get back into playoff contention.
"I always feel [ready]," he said. "I want to be there. This is the time of year you'd like to be playing. I've missed more time this year than, I think, my entire career combined due to injuries. So it's been a pretty frustrating year for me. But, yeah, I'm looking forward to getting back as soon as I can.
"Frustrating is the best way to put it. I understand that I've been pretty fortunate in my entire career to avoid major injuries, aside from my shoulder. I guess it was my time. As much as I would have liked to have stayed healthy after I came back the initial time, I guess it wasn't in the cards. I'm hoping everything goes well here these couple days, or however long I'm here, and I can get back to New York with no other problems.
"New York has been playing well. In baseball, it's 162 games. There's streaks. There are good streaks and bad streaks. Hopefully the bad ones don't last long and the good ones go on for quite some times. So we're hoping to continue that."