Yankees Get Another Reminder of Their Mortality

Jeter gets scratched with ankle pain, putting Opening Day start in doubt

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Jeter's ankle flares and so do other fears.

    Derek Jeter got removed from the lineup for the Yankees on Tuesday because of an ankle issue that's being described as anything but a setback from the break he suffered against the Tigers last October. 

    The ankle was stiff, cranky, a little sore and experiencing problems that doctors felt were totally expected. On top of all that, Jeter said the pain wasn't even in the same place in an attempt to further downplay the seriousness of his absence. 

    We're not sure how ankle pain unrelated to a serious ankle injury suffered in the recent past is a positive sign for a shortstop headed toward his 39th birthday, but there you have it.

    With any other player, you'd say that an Opening Day start at anything other than designated hitter was out of the cards, but Jeter's history says that he'll do everything possible to be fully in the lineup if only to contradict people who think he's not ready. 

    That kind of resolve is going to make life tough on Joe Girardi this season. You get the feeling that Girardi knows that playing Eduardo Nunez at shortstop is the wisest thing at the moment, but that he also understands very well that Jeter isn't just another player when it comes to these decisions. 

    Balancing those things is not going to be easy and Ken Davidoff of the Post makes a sound suggestion on Wednesday that Girardi needs to be vigilant about limiting the wear and tear on Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and the rest of the silver foxes on the Yankee roster. It's easier said than done, though. 

    This Yankee team isn't built to win while giving the older players more limited roles. It's quite the opposite as the senior Yankees are all playing leading roles and the players behind them aren't good enough to take this team where it needs to go. 

    You don't need to look far for an example of what this strategy looks like when it is put into action. Just look at the Knicks, who have spent the last two-plus months watching their division lead slowly bleed away because they put all of their eggs in a basket weaved by players on the backside of their career arcs and weren't going to win without riding those players into the ground. 

    Baseball and basketball are apples and oranges, but the Yankees have set themselves up for the same fate. Jeter's absence on Tuesday shows the risk involved with that path, even as you accept that the Yankees have no choice but to take it. 

    Josh Alper is also a writer for Pro Football Talk. You can follow him on Twitter.