Jeter isn't 'fine,' but he is playing

NEW YORK -- Derek Jeter says he's fine.

Derek Jeter always says he's fine.

It's part of what we admire about him. It's part of what rival players admire about him.

"The ability to put the team before himself," Rays third baseman Evan Longoria said Friday. "His interview the other day was perfect. I saw him. He looked like he could barely walk, but he was in there -- and getting hits."

Jeter has a bone bruise on his left ankle. He refuses to talk about it. He'll barely acknowledge it, even to his manager.

"I get the word 'great,'" Joe Girardi said.

We know the ankle is an issue, because Girardi waited before posting his lineup for Friday's game against the Rays, and because when Jeter was in the lineup, it was as the designated hitter (Girardi said he never considered playing Jeter at shortstop). We know it's an issue, because Girardi admitted that if the Yankees had a significant lead in the American League East, Jeter would likely be getting some days off to allow the ankle to heal.

Girardi doesn't feel that he has the luxury to do that. The Yankees entered the weekend tied with the Orioles for first place, and even their playoff spot isn't yet assured.

Mark Teixeira is out of the lineup, which on many nights includes unfamiliar names like Steve Pearce. The Yankees need Jeter, a fact proven again this week in Boston, when the Yankees went 2 for 34 with runners in scoring position, with Jeter getting the only two hits.

Jeter had two more hits Friday, in the Yankees' 6-4 loss to the Rays, moving him past Willie Mays on baseball's all-time list.

Girardi suggested that Jeter may have to deal with the ankle issue for the rest of the season. It's not clear how long Jeter will be limited to DH (he insists that he could play shortstop now), or how soon he'll regain any of his lost speed.

"I've seen DH's that are slower," Girardi said. "But obviously he's not running the way he's capable of running."

Jeter isn't unique in dealing with an injury in September, and the Yankees aren't unique in having key players hurt. Longoria is limited to DH duty on many nights himself (he was the Rays' DH Friday), and he isn't running well, either, because of a hamstring injury.

"I've got to hit it where they ain't, so I don't have to beat it out," Longoria said.

He doesn't complain. He admires the way Jeter handles his situation, so he tries hard to do the same.

"It's good enough to play," Longoria said.

"You either play or you don't," said Jeter.

Like Longoria, Jeter played Friday. Healthy or not, he played.

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