It's been an unfamiliar road for Derek Jeter this season, but it now leads to a place where he's always welcome.
Nine months after breaking his left ankle in the 2012 playoffs, the veteran shortstop will make his season debut at Yankee Stadium on Thursday when the New York Yankees try to split their four-game series with the Kansas City Royals in the Bronx.
Jeter, who will be designated hitter and bat second, successfully completed his rehabilitation for a broken left ankle - originally suffered versus Detroit in October and fractured again in April - with a four-game stint at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre the past week. The 39-year-old went 1 for 9 with four walks in four games, including 0 for 3 with a throwing error Wednesday night against Rochester.
"I do (feel I'm ready) but I said I was ready in January," Jeter told the team's official website after the last game. "There are a lot of different situations that happened, but I felt good."
The Yankees hope their captain can provide a spark to an offense that is next-to-last in the AL in runs scored but may be ending its offensive funk. New York (49-42) ended a three-game losing streak in which it scored one run each time with an 8-1 victory Wednesday, as Robinson Cano hit a three-run homer and Lyle Overbay added a grand slam.
"We needed that really bad,'' Cano said.
Jeter is 18 for 44 (.409) with three homers and two doubles lifetime against Royals scheduled starter Ervin Santana, who hasn't beaten the Yankees as a starter in nearly five years.
Jeter's return should further aid Andy Pettitte, who has not lost to the Kansas City Royals in nearly 14 years. Pettitte (6-6, 4.37 ERA) has gone 10-0 with a 3.43 ERA in 14 starts against the Royals since an Aug. 18, 1999 loss.
The most recent win came May 11, when he threw seven innings of two-run ball with seven strikeouts in a 3-2 road victory.
The left-hander has earned the win in three straight starts against Kansas City with a 2.14 ERA, and is 15-3 with a 3.40 ERA in 23 career matchups.
Pettitte ended a four-game stretch in which he was 0-3 by pitching 6 2-3 innings and giving up four runs in a 5-4 victory over Baltimore on Saturday.
"I've been frustrated,'' he said. "Every decision you're making, you feel like it's not the right one.''
Pettitte can pass Hall of Famer Bob Gibson for sole possession of 44th place on the all-time wins list with his 252nd on Thursday. That would also move him within one victory of tying another Hall of Famer, Carl Hubbell.
Santana (5-5, 2.90), in his first year with Kansas City (43-45) after eight seasons with the Angels, has gone 0-6 with a 6.63 ERA in nine starts against Yankees since beating them Aug. 1, 2008.
The latest was May 12, with the right-hander giving up four runs in 6 1-3 innings of 4-2 loss, surrendering homers to Cano and Vernon Wells. Cano has six home runs and two doubles among his 13 hits off of Santana and is batting .325 in the matchup.
The slugger went 3 for 4 on Wednesday and is batting .438 during a five-game hitting streak.
Santana has gone four starts without a decision and hasn't lost in his last seven outings. However, he's posted a 4.26 ERA in his last three starts after compiling a 0.94 mark in the previous four.
Santana pitched seven innings and gave up three runs in a 4-3 win over Oakland on Saturday.
"Ervin was great, really threw the ball well," manager Ned Yost told the team's official website.
Wells went 2 for 2 on Wednesday and has gone 10 for 20 in seven games in July. He's 9 for 27 with three doubles in his career against Santana.
"I feel like we stung a few balls but right at people, so we have nothing to show for it. We just have to bounce back (Thursday),'' Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain said.
Billy Butler is 5 for 16 with two home runs and two doubles off Pettitte.