Derek Jeter looking more comfortable on defense
As the play began, there was a collective gasp among the Yankee Stadium crowd, which probably held its breath for a second.
And not only because Wilson Betemit's hard grounder into the shortstop hole, with J.J. Hardy on first, spelled trouble for Ivan Nova in the seventh inning Saturday against the Orioles. Derek Jeter likely had something to do with that momentary anxiety.
After a step, Jeter quickly dived to his right and made a backhand snag of the ground ball. He sprung into a crouch, twisted around and flipped the ball to second baseman Robinson Cano, who fired to first to complete the highlight-reel double play.
And Jeter wasn't hurt. So the fans -- and organization -- could exhale.
"It was a huge play," said Nova, who pitched a three-hit shutout. "I was really, really excited.''
Added Cano: "I knew [Jeter] had a chance to get the ball right away. He's getting to every ball."
Jeter, with a wry grin, said he's "just good enough to make that play." He was referring to the impact that injuries have had on his performance this season.
As for the concerns (or worries) about his health: "I feel fine," he said. "I'm getting more and more comfortable every day."
Jeter still is struggling to get untracked offensively, and Saturday's 0-for-4 dropped his batting average to .184 (7-for-38, including 3-for-19 since returning from his latest stay on the disabled list). But a truer test of his health, perhaps, is defense.
And that diving stop Saturday indicates that Jeter still is nimble enough to field his position adequately, which also suggests his health has improved considerably. He made a similar diving play to his right and threw to first from his knees against the Blue Jays on Wednesday.
Jeter didn't appear nearly as fluid defensively -- in games or fielding drills -- during his July rehab assignment with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and he had two injury setbacks after that. But his recent play is a clear sign of progress.
"The more game situations you're in, the better you feel," Jeter said. "I don't really remember my first time in Scranton, but I feel a little better now than I did then."
Shortstop is quite the demanding position for a 39-year-old, particularly one whose legs have been ravaged in the last 10 months.
Jeter broke his left ankle during the American League Championship Series in October. That was only the beginning of a saga that included a second ankle fracture, quad and calf strains and three disabled list stints in this truncated season.
"He's in the training room all the time and he's stiff," Mark Reynolds said of Jeter. "He puts in a lot of work and time to get himself to where he's able to make plays like that."
Jeter owns five Gold Gloves, but his range has long been the subject of criticism. His range factor this season is 3.63. (The Sabermetric stat measures a fielder's defensive prowess based on putouts and assists per game.) That number is not spectacular by any means, but it's on par with his average since 2009 and not too far off his career mark of 3.94.
"I don't go around with what people say like, 'Oh, he's not getting to balls,' " Cano said. "You can see the way he's playing the game. The guy looks good."