By Sweeny Murti
The RBI double down the right-field line Sunday afternoon against Cliff Lee almost seemed like vintage Derek Jeter. Big hit, big spot, who else but the Captain? The 1-for-2 with 2 walks kept Jeter’s batting average from sinking into unchartered waters, below the .260 mark. It was a small sign of encouragement in a second half that’s offered little for the Yankee shortstop.
Every year when a veteran player struggled deep into a season such as this, Joe Torre would sit that player down at the appropriate time, usually anywhere from mid-August to early-September, and tell that player to not worry about his batting average not being what he’s used to it being, to just try to hit .300 from this point forward.
It appears Jeter sat down with himself and had that same talk recently.
Jeter went 1 for 7 in last Friday’s 13-inning marathon in Texas, and that average teetered at .260. He put the ball in play six times, only once reaching the outfield, his only hit of the now very familiar infield variety.
On what was a late night to be talking about anything relevant, Jeter for the first time sounded like a guy acknowledging how bad its been going, while at the same time still believing it would get better. Listen to Jeter as he speaks with reporters in the visiting clubhouse at Rangers Ballpark last Friday night/Saturday morning.
Even Joe Girardi, ever the optimist, is finally acknowledging that Jeter—at the moment—is not the hitter that we all know him to be. Girardi said he gave Jeter a rest on Saturday because of the long game—5 hours and 12 minutes—the night before. Would he have done the same thing if Jeter was hitting .330? It takes a lot for Girardi to admit that one of his players is struggling, and this is as close as he gets. Listen…
Girardi references Mark Teixeira’s struggles earlier in the season. But there is a big difference between a 30-year old with six years left on his contract and a 36-year old at the end of his contract.
Still, Jeter is able to tune out all this speculation and even put aside any lingering thoughts about his offensive struggles pretty easily for a player of his status and accomplishments. It’s not easy for a player used to putting up numbers to not fret over the lack of numbers, especially in a contract year. Girardi quickly put his finger on the reason why Jeter can do that. Listen…
Girardi says that his confidence in Jeter “has never wavered,” even as he watches his team struggle at time to score runs and he still pencils Jeter into the top of the lineup every night. Girardi is a student of numbers, and when he continues to bat a guy with a .326 on-base percentage in the leadoff spot, it contradicts a basic philosophy of building your lineup. Girardi doesn’t believe that’s an issue for this team. Listen…
This hasn’t been Derek Jeter’s best year. In fact, it’s been his worst. Yet there is something about him that keeps Joe Girardi’s faith. And as much time and space as we’ve used trying to dissect Jeter’s 2010 performance, as much as many of us want to write him off as a player in decline—admit it…there’s a small part of you that just can’t bet against Derek Jeter. Based on what you’ve seen for the last 15 years, or even in the 6th inning against Cliff Lee on Sunday, who can blame you?