NEW YORK -- Don Mattingly knows about trying to come back from an injury that just won’t heal.
A star first baseman for the New York Yankees from 1982-95, Mattingly retired as a player following several years of severe back pain.
It remains to be seen how successful injured Yankees captain Derek Jeter will be in returning to shortstop this summer at age 39 -- after a career-high, nine-month layoff.
“The older you get makes it tougher,” Mattingly, now the Los Angeles Dodgers manager, said Friday. “But I think if there was one guy I wouldn’t doubt, it would be Jeter because he seems to defy the odds.”
Jeter broke the ankle in the AL championship series opener against Detroit in Oct. 13 and found out Thursday there was a small crack near the original injury. The new break will need four-to-eight weeks to heal.
He hit .316 last season and led the AL with 216 hits, his best season since winning his fifth World Series title in 2009. Age has already crimped his range and some wonder whether he will be able to be an everyday shortstop when he returns.
“That’s a pretty significant injury when it’s going to impact your legs like it is, especially the position he plays,” Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. “I don’t know if they have to start making other plans to play different spots based on mobility. I don’t know how significant or bad it is. But it’s going to be difficult to come back to what we remember of him in the past, I would think.”
Not wearing a boot and walking without a limp, Jeter spent 45 minutes Friday at the Yankees’ minor league complex in Tampa, Fla. The Yankees captain was wearing sneakers when he left the facility, where he talked with the training staff. Asked if he was disappointed by the setback, he said “of course” but little else.
Jeter plans to talk about his injury with New York media next week when the Yankees return from a trip that ends Wednesday at Tampa Bay.
“It must be devastating for him,” said 43-year-old closer Mariano Rivera, who came back for a final season this year following a knee injury that sidelined him most of last season. “There are people that lead by example, and he’s one of them. He doesn’t have to say anything. He doesn’t have to say much. He will say something if he needs to, but most of the time it’s just by example. Being there. Playing hard. Respect the game. Be there for your teammates. All that. That’s what’s missed.”
Eduardo Nunez has seen most of the innings at shortstop in Jeter’s absence. New York also is missing third baseman Alex Rodriguez (hip), first baseman Mark Teixeira (wrist) and outfielder Curtis Granderson (forearm).
A regular shortstop of Jeter’s age is rare but not unprecedented. Omar Vizquel was 38 when the 2006 season started and played 152 games at that position for the San Francisco Giants, according to STATS. Luke Appling was 42 on opening day of the 1949 season and made 141 appearances at shortstop that year for the Chicago White Sox.
“I really believe that when he’s healed, he’s going to be a good player for us. It’s just a matter of when,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Friday before the start of a series in Toronto. “I think once he heals up and we get him back, he’ll play at a high level. But the question now is, when is it going to be?