Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter looks on from the dugout during...

Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter looks on from the dugout during a game against the Minnesota Twins. (July 12, 2013) Credit: Jim McIsaac

Perhaps as a gift for Alex Rodriguez's 38th birthday, the Yankees on Saturday executed a brilliant plan to temporarily take the spotlight away from their embattled third baseman.

Manager Joe Girardi said before the afternoon tilt against the Rays that Derek Jeter was going to play in a simulated game. Purposefully left unsaid was where and when.

"We're not going to disclose where it's at," Girardi said. "Just going to let him go do his work, and we'll see how he is after today."

Twitter, as you might expect, blew up a little. Wondering where Jeter was became a Saturday morning game, with the captain joining Waldo, Carmen Sandiego and Matt Lauer as a subject of location speculation.

Faced with the obvious choice of having Jeter get his at-bats in the morning at Yankee Stadium, the club chose to add a little intrigue to what should have been a simple process.

Was Jeter going to play on the home fields of one of the Yankees' minor-league affiliates? That would have led him to Staten Island, or Trenton, or Moosic, Pa., home of the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.

Was he going to fly to Tampa and join Rodriguez, who went through some light baseball activities under the prying eyes of a half-dozen reporters peering over an outfield fence (true story)? Were the Yankees going to rent out vacant Citi Field -- or maybe have Jeter head east and use Bethpage Ballpark, home of the Long Island Ducks?

(That last one probably was nixed because of insurance concerns. Can't have Jeter tripping over a discarded Quacker.)

According to a Mets spokesman, the Yankees did not ask for permission to use Citi Field. Yes, we asked.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney famously used to have an undisclosed location for national security reasons. Not sure it was necessary for the Yankees to cloak Jeter's simulated swings in the same level of secrecy.

It all leads to the question: If no one sees a simulated game, does it really happen? And the more important question for Yankees fans: Why is it so hard for the Yankees to get their star players back from Grade I quadriceps strains without intrigue becoming as much of the rehab process as deep knee bends?

If A-Rod's injury was the Quad Strain Heard 'Round the World, at least Jeter's hasn't been surrounded by controversy, possible Twitter insubordination and Rodriguez turning into WFAN's newest update man.

Like A-Rod, Jeter wanted to return much faster than the Yankees have been willing to allow. The buzz Friday was that Jeter could be in the lineup Saturday, but the Yankees trotted out their simulated-game plan at about 11:30 p.m. without explanation, other than an announcement from a media relations official.

Having covered more than a few simulated games, I can report that they are not all that exciting. Usually, you have a pitcher, a catcher, a bunch of team officials and some youngsters or a really energetic dog out in the outfield to retrieve the balls.

For Jeter, it wasn't about the swings; he's been doing that for a while. It was about the running, which is how he injured the quad in the first place in his first (and only) game of the season on July 11 after October surgery to repair a broken ankle.

Jeter wanted to play the day after he suffered the injury. The Yankees said no and eventually placed him on the disabled list. Saturday was the first day he was eligible to return.

So how did the secret sim game go? Girardi revealed after the Yankees' 1-0 loss that it took place on Staten Island. Jeter had eight at-bats, ran from first to third and second to home, and stood out at shortstop.

"If he comes in and feels good tomorrow,'' Girardi said, "he will play for us.''

Not a minute too soon. If the Yankees' feeble offensive output against Rays starter Chris Archer -- two hits -- proved anything, it's that what this fading team needs is its star players back, not more drama. There's no hiding that.

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