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Hits have kept on coming from Jeter

He has been hot since No. 3,000

The Yankees have gotten off to a slow start this season, but their captain, Derek Jeter, doesn’t seem to have lost a step. The Yankees have gotten off to a slow start this season, but their captain, Derek Jeter, doesn’t seem to have lost a step. (Nick laham/Getty Images)
By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / April 20, 2012
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NEW YORK - There comes a point with every player when the age starts creeping up, when the questions get louder, when the end seems closer. That was the story in the first half of 2011 for Derek Jeter, who was struggling at .257 and coming off his worst year as a professional in 2010.

It was, perhaps, time to think about a new shortstop for the Yankees, a new man atop their order. It was time to think of a post-Jeter future, all while Yankees teammates and fans held their breath for a milestone that seemed to take forever to arrive.

Then, there it was, on July 9: Jeter got his 3,000th hit (in a game in which he had five hits).

Since then?

“He’s been a different guy,’’ said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. “I keep saying it: Since he got 3,000, he’s just been a completely different guy.’’

For the remainder of the 2011 season, Jeter hit .338 with an .843 OPS. He was, in other words, outstanding.

And even that is nothing in comparison with how he has started this season. With two months to go before he turns 38, Jeter is batting .389 with a 1.089 OPS. He has four home runs after hitting only six all of last year.

“I’m happy for that guy, because you know people always criticize his age, and stuff like that, and I like to see him having a good start,’’ said second baseman Robinson Cano.

There are no criticisms, no questions, not at the moment.

Except, perhaps, whether Jeter can remain in the lineup long enough to get to 4,000 hits. He stood at 3,109 going into Thursday night’s game against the Twins.

“I think [4,000 hits] that’s kind of crazy to think about,’’ Girardi said. “You’re talking about five years of having to get about 200 hits, in a sense. It’s a lot of hits. I’m not ready to dive into that one yet.’’

He added, “When we talked about Derek last year when he was struggling, I said I would never, ever doubt Derek Jeter, what he could possibly do.

“But, as I know, we’re a long ways away from that.’’

For now, they’re content to concentrate on what Jeter is doing now. And that’s hitting. The shortstop argues that it wasn’t the weight of 3,000 hits that stopped him last season, it was a failed mechanical change, something he tried and abandoned. It could, too, have been the calf injury that landed him on the disabled list in June.

“When I got hurt, it was a blessing in disguise,’’ Jeter said. “I got an opportunity to work on some things. This year I wasn’t trying anything new.’’

Beyond that, Jeter isn’t offering much as to why he has been so hot of late.

“I’m staying back,’’ he said. “I know it sounds simple. I wish I could give you more. But if you stay back, good things happen. If you don’t stay back, everything’s a lot more difficult.

“I don’t try to complicate things. I don’t like talking about it because I don’t like to think about it. It’s just that I’m staying back better.’’

Jeter’s offense has bolstered a team that has struggled to hit at just about every other spot, a team that has also struggled with starting pitching. The Yankees have had to handle the injury to Michael Pineda, and have a starters’ ERA (5.77) that’s not much worse than the Red Sox’ abysmal figure (5.97).

“He’s impressed everybody, I think,’’ catcher Russell Martin said. “He looks more athletic, faster. I don’t know if he changed anything in his offseason workouts, but he’s locked in right now.

“You need that at the top of the lineup. It kind of gets everybody going.’’

The only difficulty has been keeping Jeter fresh. For Girardi, it’s increasingly difficult to take him out of the lineup. Of course, that goes back to his age again. He is, after all, 37.

But Jeter is hitting well for any age, hitting everything. And though he’s not offering much in the way of explanation, the Yankees are only hoping that he keeps it going for as long as possible.

“It’s like he picked up where he left off last year,’’ Nick Swisher said. “This is my fourth year to be able to watch him do his thing, and it just seems like he’s the same every day. Nothing that dude does surprises me anymore.’’

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.

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