David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Derek Jeter enjoys talking about his rehab about as much as getting hit in the ribs by Justin Verlander, so it was hardly surprising when the shortstop declared himself done with predicting return dates.
As for Brian Cashman, he usually doesn't mind going out on a limb, or taking a flying leap. But the general manager has become all too familiar with broken bones lately, and when asked about picking a realistic day for Jeter to rejoin the Yankees, he deferred to the captain's comments. "I don't have one," he said.
For those of us in the prediction business, however, we can't just leave it at that. After months of optimism, Opening Day is out. That much is certain. But after discussing the matter yesterday with Cashman, the first week of the regular season is now in serious jeopardy, and it would take a minor miracle to have Jeter back playing in Detroit on April 6, which is when the backdated DL stint would make him eligible. Beyond that, who really knows?
As long as Jeter was playing in games, it was easier to track his progress. He could pile up the necessary amount of at-bats, test the ankle under duress, get an idea of how it might affect his overall performance. With Jeter now resigned to the trainer's room, the focus seems to be on avoiding discomfort rather than getting in playing shape.
As Jeter mentioned Tuesday, the doctors say it's all part of the process, and "what is supposed to happen" over the course of a five-month rehab for a fractured ankle. But there's also no telling how Jeter will respond to a steady dose of playing time over a prolonged period, and Cashman said that Jeter will be shut down until at least Monday.
"I don't think he'll play through the weekend, in my opinion," Cashman said. "Right now, I think rest, just to give that ankle soreness a chance to calm down, and then we'll get him going again. I can't tell you what that day is going to be. But he was in [treatment] today and I know we'll get him back. I just can't tell you when -- yet."
Jeter, who had surgery Oct. 20, made his Grapefruit League debut March 9 and played five games. Only the last two were back-to-back, and Jeter was scratched from his next scheduled game, March 19, due to "stiffness" in the ankle. He hasn't done much since, other than four at-bats last Saturday in a minor-league game, despite getting a cortisone shot to help alleviate the inflammation. The greater concern now seems to be the lingering effects from the damaged area.
His regimen Wednesday included an 11 a.m. appointment with the physical therapist, and really nothing baseball-related.
Here's what lies ahead: Even when Jeter graduates to pain-free status, that's only the first of a few hurdles. In order for Jeter to prove he's ready to return to the Yankees, Cashman agreed that he'll need consecutive nine-inning games at some point, and he's nowhere close to ready for that.
Knowing Jeter, he must feel more anxious than usual about getting back, with a big chunk of the lineup already stuck on the DL. The good news for the Yankees is that Curtis Granderson appears on schedule to rejoin the club by early May and Cashman said he has no plans to move Mark Teixeira to the 60-day DL in the hope that he returns earlier than projected.
Jeter's situation, at this stage, seems murkier. No one doubted he would be ready for Opening Day because Jeter said that's what would happen -- and it's never made much sense to bet against him. But even Jeter appears resigned to the fact that this time could be different. Not insurmountable, but different, in a way that his usual mind-over-matter toughness can't ignore or dismiss.