Nice return for Derek Jeter, who singles on first pitch

Derek Jeter bats in a spring training game

Derek Jeter bats in a spring training game against the Atlanta Braves. (March 9, 2013) (Credit: AP)

TAMPA, Fla. -- Finally, it's a "normal'' spring training for Derek Jeter.

After recovering from October surgery to repair a broken left ankle, he made his exhibition debut Saturday against the Braves, going 1-for-2 after getting the start at designated hitter.

Upon being introduced as the leadoff hitter in the bottom of the first, Jeter received a standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 10,973. Then he lined lefthander Mike Minor's first pitch into the hole between third and short for a single and appeared to run well to first base.

"Amazing,'' said Mariano Rivera, himself a bit of a story Saturday. "Swings at the first pitch, too. I'm surprised he didn't swing at the first pitch his second at-bat. That's him, though. That's what makes him special.''

Jeter, often a first-pitch swinger, smiled. "It was right down the middle,'' he said.

That Jeter played Saturday was a little surprising. Throughout spring training, the 38-year-old shortstop said the final hurdle he needed to clear to play in a game was running the bases at full speed. That never happened, but after Thursday's visit to his surgeon, Dr. Robert Johnson, in Charlotte, N.C., Jeter got "full clearance'' to play.

"Sitting around thinking about it, any spring training, you don't run full speed from the beginning. That's why there's so many games; you have to build up to it,'' Jeter said. "So I guess I misspoke when I said I had to run full speed.''

Jeter quickly left the basepaths after his hit, as he slid into second and was forced out on Ichiro Suzuki's grounder. In his second at-bat, he grounded out to third and had no noticeable difficulty getting down the line.

Jeter said the ankle, which he broke Oct. 13 during Game 1 of the ALCS against the Tigers, isn't on his mind.

"I wouldn't say peace of mind,'' he said. "It felt good to be back, but my mind's always been at peace. It just felt good to be out there. When he [his doctor] said my ankle was completely healed, what else is there to worry about?''

The next step for Jeter will be to play in the field, something that should occur this week. Joe Girardi said Jeter will have one more game at DH -- the likely bet for that would be Monday's home game against the Cardinals -- before playing shortstop.

"I think they're just trying to ease into it,'' Jeter said. "I think it takes a little longer to get comfortable defensively than offensively, but I think that's every season too.''

And so, for the first time in a while, it's back to a regular routine for Jeter.

"Now it's a normal spring training,'' he said. "I've played a game, so now it's just continuing to get more and more comfortable. More at-bats, more pitches, more times running around the bases.''

Notes & quotes: Phil Hughes (two bulging discs) threw 10 pitches off the mound in the bullpen, his first time on a mound since he got hurt Feb. 18. "Everything's good,'' said Hughes, who expects to throw a full 25- to 30-pitch bullpen session Monday . . . David Robertson (shoulder stiffness) threw a 28-pitch bullpen session and declared himself "fine,'' with no lingering soreness . . . David Aardsma, down the last several days with a groin issue, threw a 26-pitch bullpen session and said he was "feeling good.'' He has pitched in two games, allowing one run in two innings . . . Jose Ramirez, a 23-year-old righty prospect who has caught the eye of opposing team scouts, had his third straight standout outing, starting against the Braves and allowing one hit in four innings. Ramirez, who has not allowed a run in nine innings and has a mid-90s fastball and outstanding changeup, struck out four.

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