LOS ANGELES - Taking Alex Rodriguez out of the mix for a moment, admittedly a nearly impossible task, there's another significant story developing for the Yankees.
The lineup finally might be coming together.
Saying they're becoming "whole" again is probably a stretch -- not the case with Mark Teixeira out for the year and Kevin Youkilis a long shot at best to play again in 2013 -- but fewer pieces are missing.
The Yankees entered Tuesday night 2-0 with Derek Jeter in the lineup and he started at shortstop and batted second against the Dodgers. Infielder Jayson Nix was activated from the DL Tuesday afternoon. Additionally, Curtis Granderson began a rehab assignment in Trenton for the Yankees' Double-A club and Joe Girardi said it was "possible" the outfielder could join the team this weekend in San Diego. And while things appear quiet on the trade front in advance of Wednesday's deadline, the Yankees did acquire righthanded-hitting outfielder Alfonso Soriano, who was coming off a 4-for-5 performance Sunday against the Rays, including the game-winning hit.
For the first time all season Girardi believes he has at least some depth to his lineup, particularly from the right side. That was evident Sunday when Jeter, in his first at-bat, homered.
"We think it's important and you have to have balance to your lineup," Girardi said before Tuesday night's game. "And that's been something . . . we've had to play a lot of lefthanders because of injuries. When you have that balance it just makes it harder on the pitcher, it makes it harder on a manager, and it helps your club."
One of those lefthanded hitters, Brett Gardner, said he already has noticed a difference.
"It's been great," Gardner said. "We've been struggling offensively for a while, pretty much all year. Any time you can get a boost like that, especially those two guys . . . it's not just what they're capable of on the field, but what they bring to the table on the field and in the clubhouse. And Jete's our captain. Things are a lot different when he's not around."
Jeter started Sunday and though Girardi said he'll monitor the 39-year-old shortstop, he's not going to baby him.
"I won't hesitate to play him two in a row here and then we'll go from there," Girardi said.
While Girardi said he sees a Granderson return by this weekend, Gardner is taking a more guarded, "we'll-see" approach. After all, he said, look at what's already happened this season with players coming back, only to get injured again. He used himself last season as an example, when an elbow strain never healed as it was supposed to and eventually required surgery, limiting him to 16 games. Not to mention this season when Jeter, Granderson, Teixeira and Youkilis all returned at some point, only to get hurt again.
"You can't really depend on somebody until they're back here and on the field," Gardner said. "But I know Curtis' rehab has been going well and he's strong as can be and I know he's feeling well and looking forward to getting back . . . It will be another big bat we can put in the lineup."