TAMPA, Fla. -- Derek Jeter said that he has not felt this good on the field for over a year, and with his Spring Training debut now in the books, the Yankees' captain is excited to be able to count on seeing his name in the lineup more and more.
Jeter returned to action on Thursday, playing five innings at shortstop and going 0-for-2 in New York's 8-2 Grapefruit League loss to the Pirates at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Jeter worked an eight-pitch at-bat in his first plate appearance against Bucs right-hander Charlie Morton, grounding into a 4-6-3 double play, and he grounded out to third base facing Jeff Locke in the fourth inning.
"It was good. It was good to get back in a game," Jeter said. "I haven't played in a game in quite some time. Today was the first time I've swung off of live pitching. It's good to get the first game out of the way and get into a routine of playing games."
Defensively, Jeter had no balls hit his way, though he did record a putout on a caught stealing that ended the fifth inning.
After Jeter was limited to just 17 games last season due to injuries, Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that he was pleased to see Jeter run hard down the baseline on his fourth-inning groundout, showing no signs of a limp or discomfort.
"To me, that was where it was most noticeable last year, when he was running the bases," Girardi said. "For me, that's where it's going to show up."
It was a bang-bang play at first base; in fact, Girardi believed that Jeter had beaten the throw from Pirates third baseman Josh Harrison. Had this been a game where the new replay rules were available, Girardi said that he might have even tried to challenge the call.
"I thought he ran pretty hard today down to first, and that was really good to see, because we haven't seen that in a while," Girardi said. "You've got to go back to 2012. So that's a great sign for us and a great sign for him."
Jeter has been saying that he is giving little thought to his surgically repaired left ankle, having had the benefit of a full offseason of training to strengthen his lower half. Thus, busting it pain-free out of the box was not exactly a revelation to him.
"For me, I've done it already," Jeter said. "I've run a lot. You guys may not have seen it, but I've run a lot. It's always good to do stuff in game action. I felt like I hadn't been out there in such a long time. I'm not concerned about running; that doesn't cross my mind."
Brian Roberts played his first game as Jeter's Yankees double-play partner on Thursday, and he said that having Jeter confident and strong will be important to the club this season.
"I think we all know what he's capable of doing," Roberts said. "You're talking about getting a premier player in the game, if he's healthy. It's hard to replace a player like that at shortstop, so I think everybody, for a lot of reasons, is hoping that's who you get this year."
Jeter said that there is little that he is still curious to try in a game situation. He has been showing off his jump-throw from shortstop during infield practice, and he assumes that will translate to games. About the only thing Jeter has not done defensively is dive for a ground ball or line drive.
"I'll look forward to that," Jeter said. "I haven't met too many people that practice diving for balls. It's something that I think just comes with practice and comes with games. It will happen when it happens. Right now I'm not where I want to be, but that's why we have 30-something games in Spring Training."
Girardi has said that he is generally planning on playing his starters every other day at this point in Spring Training, so Jeter's next game is scheduled to come on Saturday at 1:05 p.m. ET against the Phillies at Steinbrenner Field.
Those at-bats are important, considering that Jeter has not been at full health since sometime during the 2012 season. Girardi said that he is running Jeter's camp without restrictions, so Jeter can plan on getting about 60 at-bats this spring, working up to playing three straight days at some point in the future.
"I feel like I haven't played a game in a couple of years," Jeter said. "That's what it felt like, even though I played a couple last year. Just getting into a game, feeling good -- that's what I was most excited about."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat.