David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
TORONTO - Derek Jeter's not stupid, so he knows the odds that he will play straight through until the end of this season are not very good. How could he think otherwise?
The Yankees' captain realizes that his legs aren't right, or at least not in the shape they need to be, and there's nothing he can do to change that in the final week of August. So for now, starting Monday night on the artificial turf of Rogers Centre, Jeter will do what he can, at whatever speed he can, and keep his fingers crossed that he's luckier than he's been since breaking an ankle during last year's ALCS loss to the Tigers.
"Look, I haven't been able to work out my legs since October because I had to let a bone heal," Jeter said. "So really, if you think about it, it's probably not surprising that something happens to them. All I can do is go out and play and hope everything is fine. I wish I would have had more time to do things, but I didn't.
"We are where we are, so now let's move forward. Hopefully, there's no more issues."
In other words, Jeter's not making any promises. Enjoy him while he lasts, and in his previous two tries, Jeter didn't stick around for very long.
On July 11, in his much-celebrated comeback from that fractured left ankle, Jeter played a total of seven innings before returning to the disabled list with a strained right quadriceps.
Almost three weeks later, Jeter rejoined the Yankees and managed to stay for a total of four games. Again, the same right leg gave him trouble, but this time it was a calf strain.
Which brings us to last night against the Blue Jays, when Jeter went 0-for-3 with a walk and a strikeout. He reported no issues afterward. It was hard to tell if he was "running smart," as Jeter was asked before the game.
"I ran at 93.7 percent the last time I played," Jeter said, smiling. "I don't know if I'd put a percent on it. As long as you make it, that's the point, right? I'll run whatever gets me there safely. That's what I'll try to do."
Short of the scooter Jeter used to get around his Tampa mansion last winter, that's difficult to do, and nearly impossible while playing baseball at this level. The only way to protect Jeter is to play him judiciously, and that responsibility falls to Joe Girardi, who already has to nurse Alex Rodriguez through the next 31 games.
Remember, the first time Jeter reinjured himself, he was the DH, and wrecked his quad hustling to first base on a routine grounder. He won't be doing that anymore, but there's going to be plenty of other occasions when Jeter will have to push his legs into risky territory.
"You kind of think the more time he gets away from the ankle injury, and the stronger it gets, it should even out and it should be OK," Girardi said. "But we'll see what happens."
Before this year, the fewest number of games Jeter had played in a season was 119 in 2003, when he dislocated his left shoulder. He's averaged 144 games, so being away from the Yankees, and a regular at Triple-A Scranton, has left Jeter feeling a little lost. It doesn't help that August is more like April to him now, and he's faced with the dual challenge of getting up to speed while trying to get the Yankees to the playoffs.
Jeter might have to wait a year for both to happen again.
"Is there a different way to approach this?" Jeter said. "I approach it the same -- try to win games. Whatever it takes to win a game. That's what the approach has always been. That approach is the same from Game 1 on, so nothing changes."
That's what the Yankees would like to think. As long as they see No. 2 at shortstop, everything will be OK, just as it's always been. But Jeter is not the same this season, and he's still not OK. Not completely. And each time he takes the field from now on, it seems as if the Yankees will be holding their breath.
"It's nice," Girardi said of Jeter's return. "Hopefully we can keep him this time."