Commentary

Jeter to play on Wednesday? Fat chance

Dangerously close to 3K, Captain's hit quest will likely resume in Bronx -- not Cleveland

Updated: July 6, 2011, 3:07 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

CLEVELAND -- A wise man once said -- in fact, a certain wise man says it several times a night -- that you just can't predict baseball.

But there is one thing you can pretty safely predict about a certain baseball player: Derek Jeter will not get his 3,000th hit Wednesday night at Progressive Field against the Indians.

It's not that he's not capable of getting four hits in a game -- despite his rather modest .257 batting average and .320 on-base percentage, he's done it twice already this season -- but that no one, not even Derek Jeter, is capable of getting four hits from the dugout.

And I think we can all safely assume that is where Jeter is going to be watching the finale of this three-game series with the Indians on Wednesday night.

Derek Jeter
AP Photo/Ron KuntzDerek Jeter tagged two hits Tuesday, moving him four shy of 3,000 for his career.

Jeter had two hits in the Yankees' 9-2 victory over Cleveland on Tuesday. One, a dribbler the third baseman couldn't handle. And the other, a rocket neither the left fielder nor the center fielder had a prayer of reaching.

Those left him with 2,996 hits, ostensibly one excellent game from the milestone he has been working 16-plus years to achieve, a total that even the ultra-cautious Jeter grudgingly admitted left him "close" to his goal.

But I'll bet you a sack of game-used baseballs that on Wednesday afternoon, Joe Girardi says, "That's close enough for now."

Whether it's because he's concerned about resting Jeter's 37-year-old legs, which now have played four games in the past three weeks, or because he wants Jeter to reach the plateau at Yankee Stadium, there's about as much chance of seeing Jeter's name on the next Yankees lineup card as there is of seeing a 2-year-old outeat Joey Chestnut.

"I'll talk to him tonight," Girardi said. "We'll see where we're at. He's played four days in a row, then we have tomorrow and then we have another four [at home], so I'll talk to him."

Then, the manager started to enumerate more reasons why there's no way Jeter is playing Wednesday: "He's played four days in a row; he's got another five games in a row. Where do you give him the day off in that situation? I think he needs a day. That's my personal opinion."

Still, Girardi insisted that in his egalitarian system, the player always has a say in any such decision.

"He always asks me to sleep on it, and I try to be fair with my players when they ask me to sleep on it," Girardi said. "So we'll talk about it, I'll sleep on it and I'll give him an answer."

But when pressed to explain what argument Jeter could possibly make Tuesday night that would cause the manager to wake up Wednesday morning and write his name on the lineup card, Girardi said, "I'm not real sure."

Because, of course, there is none.

Girardi's reasoning might appear sound, but it doesn't at all square with his use of Jeter this season. Jeter played the first 21 games, albeit over a span of 28 days, before Girardi gave him his first day off. And June 13, when Jeter suffered the right calf strain that landed him on the disabled list, he was playing in his 35th consecutive game, spread over 39 days.

And even though he will be starting the All-Star Game next Tuesday, he will have days off the Monday before and the following Wednesday before the Yankees resume their season in Toronto on Thursday night.

So the idea that Jeter suddenly needs a day off two games into his comeback didn't really wash with anyone, not even Jeter.

"I'd like to play [Wednesday]," Jeter said. "It's hard for me to sit anyway. And I mean, I've sat for three weeks now, you know? So yeah, I want to play."

Derek Jeter
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireIs playing in three straight games too much for Derek Jeter? Joe Girardi seems to think so.

Truthfully, if the idea here was to ensure that Jeter gets his 3,000th hit at home, Girardi probably is better off playing Jeter in Wednesday's finale, because the odds are always against a four-hit game by anyone. A hit or two off Justin Masterson, the Indians' scheduled starter, against whom Jeter is 5-for-12 (.417) lifetime, would set him up perfectly to reach his goal in the final four home games that precede the All-Star break.

So the question is, what is really Girardi's motivation here? A questioner or two tried to imply that the Yankees' lineup card was not entirely under the manager's control, that unseen forces in the Yankees' hierarchy -- GM Brian Cashman? Team president Randy Levine? COO Lonn Trost, whose job it is to fill the ballpark, a Herculean task this season? -- were pulling the strings from behind a curtain somewhere, a suggestion Girardi shot down.

"No one has ever said a word to me about where he needs to do it," Girardi said. "My concern is us winning ballgames and him being healthy. Three thousand hits is gonna happen. Would it be great if it happened at home? Yeah, but you can't predict what's going to happen, so I'm not going to try."

That leaves only one conclusion: that Girardi believes the best chances for a Yankees victory Wednesday lie with Derek Jeter on the bench and either Eduardo Nunez (who tweaked his hamstring and hasn't played in a couple of days) or Ramiro Pena (who made two costly errors Sunday, one of which cost the Yankees a game to the Mets) on the field in his place.

You can believe that one if you want. I'm not sure what to believe.

All I know -- and I feel confident in predicting this -- is that Derek Jeter, who was stuck at 2,994 hits for three weeks by circumstances beyond his control, will be stuck at 2,996 for at least one more day by circumstances in his manager's control.

•••

Jeter's second hit, a line-drive double that landed on the warning track in left-center field nearly 400 feet from home plate, was made possible because of a hard slide by Brett Gardner, who kept the inning going by taking out Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera with a hard slide on Francisco Cervelli's apparent double-play grounder. Cabrera left the game two innings later with an ankle sprain. ... The Yankees abused starter Carlos Carrasco, who had shut them out 1-0 on five hits at Yankee Stadium on June 13, the day Jeter got hurt. Curtis Granderson was his main tormentor, homering in the second and fourth innings to reach No. 25 on the season, one more than he hit all last season. Granderson now is tied with Mark Teixeira for the team lead, and both are tied for second in the majors behind Jose Bautista. ... Every hitter in the Yankees' lineup except for Cervelli had at least two hits, and the 17 hits they put up were one shy of their season high, accomplished at the expense of the Indians on June 12. ... CC Sabathia, who said he was not smarting about being snubbed for the All-Star Game, certainly pitched as if he had something to prove, tossing seven shutout innings, limiting the Indians to five hits while striking out 11. Relying mostly on a hard slider, Sabathia (12-4, 2.90 ERA) struck out the side in the fourth, fifth and seventh innings. ... Jeter's heroics were not limited to the plate. He and Jorge Posada -- who was playing first base while Teixeira got a DH day -- combined on a nifty 6-3 to retire Orlando Cabrera to end the sixth inning. Jeter, whose range has been criticized, roamed far to his left to snag Cabrera's grounder over second, spun around and fired to Posada, who scooped the throw neatly on one hop. ... Lance Pendleton came on for the final two innings and allowed the two Cleveland runs in the ninth on a single, two walks and two sacrifice flys. ... Phil Hughes (0-1, 13.94) on Wednesday makes his first start since going on the DL on April 15 with right shoulder inflammation. He will face Masterson (6-6, 2.85). First pitch is at 7:05 p.m. ET.

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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