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Jeter ready to move forward in injury-plagued campaign

TORONTO -- The batting stance looks the same as ever, as does the confident strut to home plate. Even the bat, that black Louisville Slugger P72, is the identical model Derek Jeter has been swinging through strike zones for nearly two decades.

But there has been a change for the captain, who returned to the lineup on Monday and went 0-for-3 with a walk in New York's 5-2 loss to Toronto at Rogers Centre. Jeter hears "voices" in his mind instructing him to "run under control" after contact, a reminder that everything isn't what it always has been.

"I'll try to do as much as I can to keep strong for this last month, but all I can do is go out and play and hope everything's fine," said Jeter, who was activated from the disabled list on Monday and batted second against the Blue Jays. "I can't change anything that's happened."

Jeter may still not be 100 percent as he returns from a strained right calf -- just the latest injury in what he has called a "nightmare" season that featured three stints on the DL -- but the Yankees will gladly accept whatever percentage he is.

"He looked fine," said manager Joe Girardi. "Everything looked OK to me. I'm curious to see how he feels [on Tuesday], but it looked OK."

Facing Toronto's R.A. Dickey, the 39-year-old Jeter jogged down the first-base line after grounding out to shortstop in the first inning, then seemed to run slightly harder on a double-play grounder in the fifth.

He walked in the fifth, then struck out in the seventh facing left-hander Aaron Loup.

Jeter said that it was an unwelcome challenge having to face Dickey's knuckleball in what was just his sixth Major League game of the year.

"It's not fun. Ironically, I faced two [knuckleballers] when I was in Scranton," he said. "You just throw everything out the window and hope it goes in the direction you're swinging."

This has been the most frustrating year of Jeter's career by far. He has missed more games (125) over his three trips to the DL in 2013 than he did in his prior five stints combined (82), and has still played more games as a Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRider than as a Yankee.

"It's good having him back," Girardi said. "It gives us more depth. He's a guy that has been very successful at the top of the order and has played very good shortstop for us. It's good to have him back."

But at what percentage? Jeter joked before the game that he had been running at "93.7 percent" the last time he played, a light-hearted attempt to pin a numeric value on something that can't really be quantified.

Interestingly, though, he acknowledged on Monday that he has not been able to work out his legs normally since fracturing his left ankle in pursuit of a ground ball during last year's American League Championship Series.

He suggested that the resulting weakness may have contributed to his other injuries -- a new fracture in his left ankle during Spring Training, then a strained right quadriceps in his first game off the DL, on July 11 against the Royals.

"I wish I would have had more time to do things, but I didn't, and we are where we are," he said. "So now let's move forward, and hopefully, there's no more issues."

Knowing that he may have to treat Jeter with some caution, Girardi plans to watch Jeter closely and make decisions each day based upon how the veteran feels.

"You kind of think the more time he gets away from the ankle injury and the stronger it gets, it should even out," Girardi said. "It should be OK, but we'll see what happens."

Jeter said after Monday's game that his job is to play, so he would tell Girardi that he wants to play -- not exactly groundbreaking news to anyone who has read the transcript of one of his postgame interviews in the last two decades.

He knows it can do no good to think about what has already transpired this year, but acknowledged that it has been difficult to completely put all of the injuries out of his mind. The voices are still there.

"I'm hoping I have no other problems, I really am," he said. "I can't tell you what I'm going to do. I'm trying to be smart. I guess the game will dictate it. I don't really think you can play not to get hurt. I think that's when you get hurt."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat.
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