Nix gets text of support from Jeter, steps in at short
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YORK -- Jayson Nix received a text message early Sunday morning from Derek Jeter, offering encouragement and support for the player replacing him at shortstop -- a 30-year-old journeyman with 646 fewer playoff at-bats than Jeter, who Nix admired from afar throughout his career and learned more from than he believed he could put into words after 164 days sharing a clubhouse with the Yankees captain.
A few hours later, Nix was one of two Yankees on the field, taking ground balls at shortstop without mandatory batting practice, preparing for his second postseason start, but first without Jeter in the lineup. Nix started and hit ninth for New York in a 3-0 loss to Detroit in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series on Sunday, going 0-for-3 a day after Jeter fractured his left ankle diving for a ground ball that cost the Yankees Game 1, and Jeter three months.
While Nix admitted that he was "surprised and stunned" that the Yankees would play the remainder of the postseason without the player who started each of New York's past 158 playoff games, it is what he prepared for when signed a split Major and Minor League contract with the ballclub in November and took early fielding practice at three positions for the past five months.
"Don't think that this situation hasn't crossed my mind," Nix said. "These are things that I have to consider. If a certain guy goes down, I'm up. If Robbie [Cano] goes down, if Derek goes down, or [Alex Rodriguez] goes down, then I have to play. These things have crossed my mind."
So while Jeter remained on the infield dirt in the early morning hours in the 12th inning of Saturday's 6-4 Game 1 loss, Nix did not think about the ramifications of navigating the remainder of the ALCS without New York's leadoff hitter, baseball's 2012 hits leader and the only player in baseball history to record 200 playoff hits.
"I'm going in to play," Nix thought. "I'm going in to do my job."
Manager Joe Girardi refused to say before Sunday's game whether Nix would start the remainder of the series at shortstop -- fellow shortstop Eduardo Nunez replaced Jeter on the roster -- but when general manager Brian Cashman spoke in a quiet clubhouse after news broke of Jeter's injury, he declared Nix the second Yankees shortstop in 17 seasons.
"Nix will go in there," Cashman said, "and we've got a lot of confidence in Nix."
Cashman and the Yankees made a strong push to sign Nix this offseason after the utility player spent the past four seasons with four different teams. Nix had other options as a free agent, but he believed the interest from New York meant he had a strong chance to make the team out of Spring Training and he "was always an admirer from afar of this organization -- the whole history of it and how everything is done here and gone about."
Jeter embodies that, so it was also an opportunity to learn from the 18-year veteran.
Nix appeared at shortstop, second base, third base, left field and designated hitter for the Yankees this season after not making the team out of Spring Training, but he earned a promotion May 3 and hit the fly ball to center field during batting practice in Kansas City that cost New York its first season-ending injury to a future Hall of Famer, Mariano Rivera.
Nix started 54 games and came off the bench 20 times, appearing at shortstop in 17 games. His .243 batting average marked a career high for the lifetime .214 hitter, who saw his most extensive action in 2010, when he played in 102 games between the White Sox and Indians.
He found a role in New York, though, providing reliable defense at multiple positions after the Yankees recalled him from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where they sent Nunez to work on his glove exclusively at shortstop.
Nix drove in 18 runs and scored 24 for the Yankees, and when Jeter started Game 4 of the AL Division Series against the Orioles at designated hitter, nursing a bone bruise in his left foot, Nix started at shortstop.
"Does anyone remember how Nixy swung the bat in the last series? Pretty darn good, didn't he?" Girardi asked. "I like Nixy's at-bats and he's a grinder. He is one of the guys that got us here."
Nix went 2-for-3 in that Game 4 loss, hitting the ball hard in every at-bat for a single, double and certain extra bases robbed at the left-field wall by Orioles outfielder Nate McLouth.
Nix hit ninth in that game, as well, buried in the bottom of a lineup without expectations or attention because Jeter still led off. Game 2 on Sunday started the beginning of a different story.
"It' an opportunity," Nix said. "I've been through a lot in my career and fought to try to establish myself. It's an opportunity, an opportunity I have to do something."