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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Jeter must produce to stay on top

Derek Jeter runs to first after a wild

Derek Jeter runs to first after a wild pitch on a third strike in the bottom of the seventh inning. (May 1, 2011) Credit: Christopher Pasatieri

Derek Jeter strolled into the Yankees' clubhouse Sunday morning in a dark blue suit, looking as dapper as a GQ fashion spread model. He's the captain of the Yankees, a five-time World Series champion, a future Hall of Famer -- and he knows how to look the part.

Here's a question for Yankees brass: If a thread were loose on that expensive suit, would you want to be the one to tell Jeter?

Or . . . would you want to pull at it? And once it started to unravel, would you be able to stop pulling?

That's kind of the issue the Yankees are facing as Jeter's bat continues to be less than stellar. He went 0-for-3 with a hit-by-pitch in the Yankees' 5-2 win over the Blue Jays and is batting .242 with an OPS of .571.

At some point, if he doesn't start hitting the ball with more authority, Jeter is going to stroll into the clubhouse to find himself in the bottom half of the lineup. It's going to happen. The only question is when -- unless Jeter reverts to his career norms.

The Yankees under Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman have proven to be cold-blooded when they have to be. Jeter knows that from last offseason's contract negotiations. Jorge Posada knows it every time he looks longingly at the catcher's mitt he is forbidden to put on.

Jeter chuckled when asked how he's feeling at the plate. It's not his favorite subject.

"Feel good, man," he said. "You know? As long as you feel good, eventually the hits will come. It's a feel thing."

And when to move Jeter down in the order, if necessary, will be a feel thing. If it's done right, it will cause only a small ripple in the clubhouse, if that.

The media firestorm will be more pronounced. That's what we do. But the Yankees can't control that. They've given Jeter a little more than a month and 95 at-bats. He has two extra-base hits, both doubles, and the team is 16-9. So there's really no rush.

Maybe another month? Another 100 at-bats?

A glimpse into the Yankees' future thinking came Thursday, when Jeter was given the night off. (Just the idea of Jeter getting regular days off when he's healthy shows the Yankees aren't treating him as a sacred cow anymore.)

Joe Girardi hit Curtis Granderson first and Nick Swisher second Thursday; they combined to go 4-for-7 with two walks, four runs and six RBIs in the Yankees' 12-3 win over the White Sox. Granderson tripled and Swisher homered.

Sunday, Granderson hit the tiebreaking three-run homer in the fifth from the two-hole. With the Yankees facing four righthanders in their series in Detroit that starts Monday night, expect him to be in the top half of the order.

Hitting coach Kevin Long can take a bow for his swing makeover with Granderson. But he's 1-for-2 overall; the one with Jeter hasn't worked out as well.

"His at-bats have been better," Long said. "He seems to be more comfortable at the plate. I see his BP being really good right now. I'm waiting for that game to come where he drives a few balls and turns it around."

Other than in the batter's box, Jeter still looks every bit the player he's always been. He handles what he gets to at shortstop. He runs out every ball as if it's the seventh game of one of those five World Series. He laughs and smiles on the field because it's still his favorite place to be.

He's Yankees royalty and knows how to look the part. But at some point soon, he's got to be more than just an empty pinstripe suit at the plate if he's going to bat in the first inning.

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