What We Learned About Derek Jeter's Comeback in Spring Training Debut

Joe Giglio@@JoeGiglioSportsContributor IFebruary 27, 2014

New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter warms up before an exhibition baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

In a normal year, the first game of Derek Jeter's spring training slate wouldn't be particularly newsworthy for baseball fans. This isn't a normal year.

Jeter's 2014 debut—despite the innocuous nature of Grapefruit League games—was important for two distinct reasons: His impending retirement after the season and an injury-plagued 2013 that resulted in just 17 games played for the durable star.

From 1996-2012, Jeter averaged 151 games played per season. In reality—outside of long-term injury issues in 2003 and 2011—the Yankees shortstop was a lock for 155-plus games per season for nearly 20 straight years.

Outside of the pageantry of his farewell tour, the Yankees need to see agility, strength and mobility from their shortstop this spring.

Jeter's outing against the Pittsburgh Pirates can be summed up in one word: uneventful.

Yet, for a player attempting to become just the fifth 40-year-old to play 100-plus games at shortstop in baseball history, according to Baseball-Reference.com (subscription required), uneventful is a good word for the Yankees and Jeter's fans. 

During two at-bats, the soon-to-be 40-year-old recorded a pair of grounders, both resulted in outs. In the first inning, Jeter grounded into a 4-6-3 double play. His second at-bat was a three-hopper down to third base.  

The second of two ground-ball outs could have been turned into an infield hit if Jeter busted, gave 100 percent and treated the play as if it was a game that counted. Of course, that would have been foolish and ridiculous for a player coming off a nightmare season.

Defensively, Jeter didn't have the opportunity to move, run or field a grounder or a difficult play in the hole during his five innings in the game. However, in his last defensive inning—the top of the fifth—Jeter comfortably covered second base on an attempted steal. 

Outside of the statistics, short outing or fluidity around second base when covering on the steal attempt, a two things stood about Jeter's first spring training game: Comfort in the box and natural running style when busting it out of the box on balls in play.

First and foremost: Jeter looked comfortable during his two at-bats, including an eight-pitch battle against Pirates starter Charlie Morton in the first inning.

No, not mid-July comfortable, but rather comfort in the process spring training is for a player with as much experience as Jeter. Last spring, as he attempted to rehab and work his way back into shape, Jeter looked uncomfortable throughout every aspect of the exhibition season. 

In just his first game, Jeter looked and swung that bat with the expectation his spring will be unimpeded by injury issues or setbacks. The fact Jeter isn't trying to cram timing at the plate into one or two games is a great sign for how he truly feels about his aging body and healed legs.

Of course, the natural running style—free of the awkward hitch that accompanied his difficult sprints down the line in 2013—was evident from the moment he stepped on the field. It's hard to say Jeter was giving 100 percent effort on two outs, but he made 85 percent look good.

This spring will be a process for Jeter as the Yankees ramp up the Grapefruit League schedule and prepare for the grind of the 162-game season. On Day 1, the returns were overwhelmingly positive.  

Over the next five weeks, don't glance at Jeter's statistics, box score numbers or Grapefruit League batting average. 

For a 27-year-old rookie trying to squeeze onto the roster, those frivolities might be important. Clearly, Jeter is not that player.

Instead, listen for big news and watch for little things.

If major, season-changing news comes out about Jeter's health, it's a reason to pay close attention. Until that moment occurs, the Yankees' starting shortstop can only hope to have days as quiet as this one.

When watching the rest of New York's spring training slate, look closely at the things you would normally take for granted. Running style, fluidity, comfort issues in the field or at the plate. The less you see, the better Jeter can be.

The road to opening day won't be easy, but New York's franchise icon is off to a quietly good start.

Jeter's final stat line against Pittsburgh: 0-2

What were your impressions of Jeter's first Grapefruit League game?

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Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted. All contract figures courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts


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