NEW YORK - Derek Jeter walked into the Yankees' clubhouse about 2½ before game-time, carrying an equipment bag. After a nine-month layoff, the captain was back in the lineup.
Jeter was listed as the designated hitter and batting second in Thursday's series finale against the Kansas City Royals, his first big league game since he broke his left ankle during the AL championship series opener Oct. 13.
New York cut short the 39-year-old shortstop's injury rehabilitation assignment in the minor leagues after just four games following injuries Wednesday night to Travis Hafner and speedy Brett Gardner.
"He can DH tonight in Scranton or he can DH today in New York," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "Might as well bring him in and DH him in New York."
Cashman made the decision when he was driving home after New York's 8-1 win Wednesday's and spoke with Jeter by phone. Jeter went 1 for 9 in his tuneup at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, including 0 for 3 with a throwing error during seven innings Wednesday night.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Jeter is likely to start at shortstop for Friday's series opener against Minnesota.
"I think Derek would run himself out there the next 70 games if it was up to him," Girardi said. "I mean, that's just who he is. He expects to play every day. So from that standpoint I think we have to guard against rushing him back too much, and we have to pick days off, and we have to pick DH days. In the perfect world, you have a month of spring training, but this has not been a perfect world around here this year."
Cashman said former GM Gene Michael was at Wednesday's game and gave a positive report on Jeter's mobility. Girardi said he expects Jeter "to be the Derek that he was last year. There's nothing that tells me right now that he can't be."
Jeter did not speak with reporters before the game. He said after the initial injury he would return by opening day, then fractured the ankle again in April during his rehabilitation.
A 13-time All-Star with a .313 career average, Jeter hopes to jolt a batting order that is next to last in runs in the AL. The Yankees started Thursday fourth in the AL East at 49-42.
Six players have appeared at shortstop in his absence, hitting a combined .211 with two homers and 25 RBIs, according to STATS. Only Seattle shortstops had a lower batting average.
New York hopes to get third baseman Alex Rodriguez back this month following January hip surgery and center fielder Curtis Granderson next month after his broken pinkie has healed. First baseman Mark Teixeira is out for the season following wrist surgery.
Rodriguez began Thursday 2 for 15 (.133) with one RBI in six minor league games for Tampa and Charleston, both Class A farm teams. Cashman said Rodriguez will be given the full 20 days of the rehab assignment, which runs through July 21.
"There's a reason he's in A-ball, and there's a reason we were able to put Derek in Triple-A right from the start, because Derek was obviously much farther along," Cashman said.
NOTES: The Yankees cleared a roster spot by designating 1B Travis Ishikawa for assignment. ... Hafner bruised his left foot and Gardner his right leg when he was hit by a pitch for the second time.