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Derek Jeter returns to big leagues but exits early with quad injury

Yankees hitter Derek Jeter follows through on a

Yankees hitter Derek Jeter follows through on a first-inning infield single against the Kansas City Royals. (July 11, 2013) Credit: Jim McIsaac

Brian Cashman shrugged and took this bottom-line approach to the return of Derek Jeter, who was back a day earlier than the Yankees originally planned.

"We're better with him here. Period," the Yankees' general manager said late Thursday morning, a few hours before Jeter made his 2013 debut at designated hitter.

But for how long became a question after that afternoon's 8-4 victory over the Royals in front of a Stadium crowd of 40,381 excited to see the Yankees' captain back in action.

Jeter reached on an infield single on the first major-league pitch he saw in 2013, scored the Yankees' first run and went 1-for-4 with an RBI.

When he grounded out in his third at-bat, however, Jeter said his right quadriceps "tightened up a little bit." He eventually gave way to pinch hitter Brett Gardner in the eighth inning and was scheduled to have an MRI.

"It's not frustrating yet," Jeter said of missing the first 91 games of the season while rehabbing two separate fractures in his left ankle, only to require an MRI after one game back. "We'll see after the MRI. We'll find out. I hope it's not a big deal. I'm hoping for the best."

Joe Girardi said before the game that he likely would play Jeter in the field Friday night against the Twins, but he amended that afterward. If the MRI comes back clean, he said, Jeter again will be the DH Friday night. But even with a clean MRI, it can't be ruled out that the Yankees will have Jeter sit out the series against the Twins, giving him a three-day rest heading into the four-day All-Star break.

"I felt fine, I felt I was moving good," Jeter said of his left ankle. "Everything felt good up until that point."

That point was his at-bat in the fifth. With one out and Ichiro Suzuki on second, second baseman Johnny Giavotella made a diving stop to his left on Jeter's grounder in the hole and threw him out as he sprinted to first. When Jeter added an RBI groundout in the sixth, he ran through the bag but was not running all-out.

Jeter, who left Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre late Wednesday night, arrived in New York at about 3 a.m. and got about two hours of sleep before awakening at 6, responded with an emphatic "nope" when asked if the quad injury might have come from pushing too hard to return.

"I've been running all over the place the last three weeks," he said. "I don't think it has anything to do with that."

In spring training and again Thursday, Jeter admitted what he refused to last year -- that he played the last month of the season on a bad ankle, probably shouldn't have and that it eventually gave out on him in Game 1 of the ALCS, when he fractured it the first time.

Might he be tempted to push another injury, this time his quad? "Can't trick the test," Jeter said of the MRI he was scheduled to undergo. "See what the test says. We'll get an MRI. If it's all good, then I'll play."

The injury cast a bit of a pall over the day, which had been infused with energy because of the news of Jeter's return.

"It's awesome to have him back. He's a guy we need," said longtime teammate Andy Pettitte, who again struggled but improved to 7-6 after allowing four runs -- three earned -- and eight hits in 5 2/3 innings. He put the Yankees in a 3-0 hole in the first and a 4-1 deficit in the second.

But on this day, Jeter was part of a spread-the-wealth effort from the offense, which enjoyed a second straight strong game.

After scoring exactly one run in three straight losses, they put together an eight-run, nine-hit performance Wednesday night and had 11 hits Thursday. Seven players drove in the eight runs and six runs scored with two outs.

With two outs in the second, Austin Romine lined a 2-and-2 pitch from Ervin Santana down the rightfield line for an RBI double and scored on Ichiro's single to right to move the Yankees within 4-3.

With the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth, Lyle Overbay lined a two-run single to right for a 5-4 lead, and RBI singles by Zoilo Almonte and Eduardo Nuñez made it 7-4.

With the infield in, Jeter had an RBI in the sixth when Alcides Escobar momentarily bobbled his grounder to short and lost the play at home.

Jeter, naturally, was responsible for the game's first run. He received the expected roar from the crowd when he came up as the Yankees' second batter of the first. Swinging first pitch as he's done so often in his career, Jeter topped one into the dirt toward third, giving his left ankle its first test. Third baseman Miguel Tejada charged in but bobbled the ball when he made a barehanded attempt to field it.

"I had my mind made up yesterday," Jeter said with a smile, "I was going to swing at the first pitch."

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