TAMPA, Fla. -- It didn't make everything right again for the Yankees in this spring of mostly bad news, but there was something reassuring about Wednesday night.
Derek Jeter played shortstop for the first time since suffering a gruesome ankle injury last Oct. 13, starting against the Phillies.
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"I think it's big just because of what he means to our team on the field and in the clubhouse," Joe Girardi said before the Yankees' 6-2 win at Steinbrenner Field. "That he's a player for us and that he's going out there and guys are getting healthy. I think it's really important.''
Jeter started Saturday and Monday at designated hitter, going a combined 1-for-4. He went 0-for-2 with a walk Wednesday night and afterward said he finally felt back in a normal spring training routine. Afterward, Girardi said, "It seems right when he's out there and a player for us," and added that he plans to play Jeter in back-to-back games soon.
"It was fun," said Jeter, who had surgery on a broken left ankle Oct. 20. "It's always fun to get back out there because it's a little awkward coming here all the time and you're not playing."
Jeter led off the first inning and grounded to short on Cliff Lee's first pitch. With two outs and a runner at third in the second, Jeter worked a walk against Lee before Ichiro Suzuki's single to right-center gave the Yankees a 3-0 lead. Facing righthander Zach Miner with two outs in the third and runners at the corners, Jeter took a third strike.
Jeter went first to third on Ichiro's single, another test his ankle needed and passed. There will be more tests to come, such as stealing a base, scoring from second, fielding a ball deep in the hole, etc.
"The bone's healed, so it's not like I'm afraid it's going to break again," he said. "But it's just doing different things because you have to strengthen everything around it. And that takes time."
Jeter said there are mental hurdles he needs to overcome, referencing the calf injury that landed him on the disabled list in 2011. "When I pulled my calf, the first time you're out there and you get a steal sign, you're a little hesitant, but I think that happens to everyone," he said.
He said he felt "soreness" after the game. That's been the case each step of his rehab as he's amped things up, which doctors have told him is normal. "I'm not concerned about re-breaking it," he said. "It's just getting used to doing things without thinking about it."
Jeter said he was "nervous" to field his first ground ball and had to wait awhile for it. With one out in the fourth and runners on the corners, Ben Revere bounced a routine grounder to Jeter, who barely had to move. He flipped to Gil Velazquez for the force, and the speedy Revere beat the relay to first.
In the third, Kevin Youkilis twice cut off Jeter on balls hit his way, and he joked with the third baseman after the second one, a hard chopper hit by Darin Ruf. "I had that one," Jeter said. "I told him, 'I had that one.' "
Since his surgery, Jeter was resolute he would be ready for Opening Day. Nothing has happened to change that.
"The goal is April 1 and there's steps along the way," he said. "This was another step. There's other things you have to do but this was a starting point."