Given the state of the Yankees rotation, the flurry of swing changes in camp, the emergence of Jesus Montero as a roster favorite and possible resurgence of Eric Chavez, the position battle that’s gone completely overlooked this spring is between Eduardo Nunez and Ramiro Pena for the utility job. The importance of a utility man will be diminished if a big hitter is available to backup at third, but clearly Derek Jeter isn’t going to play 162 games at short. One of these two is going to get fairly regular at-bats.
“I think I have a good chance,” Nunez said. “I’m working hard.”
Nunez and Pena are friends. They seem to be around one another constantly at the Yankees spring training complex, and their lockers are only a few feet apart, but they seem to be jockeying for one spot. The Yankees know what they have in Pena — terrific glove, big league experience, very little offense — but Nunez is something of an unknown with only 50 big league at-bats, and limited experience away from shortstop.
“I am getting more comfortable with Nuney at second,” manager Joe Girardi said. “He’s an exciting player. The young man has a lot of talent. It’s just a matter of putting it all together.”
This offseason, Nunez spent seven weeks working with Robinson Cano in the Dominican Republic. He said they worked on hitting and general fitness, but Cano also worked with him at second base, including some work on turning a double play. He’s looked pretty good there this spring, and today he hit a three-run homer that brought his spring average up to .286. Pena just picked up his first hit.
• Turns out Greg Golson hurt his rib cage during tonight’s game. “I’m not exactly sure what he did,” Girardi said. “He came in and said it was bothering him.” Doesn’t sound too bad, but the Yankees should know more tomorrow.
• With three more hits this afternoon, Eric Chavez is continuing to make a strong impression on the Yankees. “You could see it right away that he had life, that the ball was jumping off his bat when we first started,” Girardi said. “He looks good to me. I watched him run the bases. There’s nothing that I’m seeing from him that would tell me he’s been hurt the last couple of years. Let’s keep it that way.”
• Andrew Brackman is scheduled to make his spring debut tomorrow.
• Here’s Girardi explaining the Colin Curtis situation: “He’s going to be out a while. I don’t have the exact diagnosis for you yet. He took the MRI today and Dr. Ahmad is going to look at it. My sense is he’s going to be out a while.”
• Rafael Soriano’s spring debut will be either Wednesday or Thursday. He pitched a simulated inning this morning but had to face one extra hitter because he got three outs too quickly.
• Girardi said we could start to see all of the Yankees regulars in the same lineup as soon as Sunday. “We’re getting closer to playing with some different things (with the lineup),” he said. This morning, the Daily News reported that there’s a strong push for Brett Gardner to slide into the leadoff spot.
• When asked about A.J. Burnett’s outing, Girardi cited the exact same at-bat that Burnett talked about this afternoon. “The way he finished getting (Wilson) Valdez,” Girardi said. “Strike after strike after strike, in a 2-2 count, down and away. I was really happy.”
• Four pitchers likely to make the big league roster pitched today (Burnett, Chamberlain, Feliciano and Mitre). They combined for eight scoreless innings with six strikeouts and no walks. Burnett, Chamberlain and Feliciano carried a perfect game through the fifth inning of this afternoon’s game.
• Mark Prior pitched another scoreless inning in the afternoon game. He’s still an extreme long shot to make the team, but he’s allowed just one hit through three innings. There might still be something left in that arm.
• Sergio Mitre made his first start after two relief outings. He went three innings, having not thrown more than two in either of his previous appearances. Mitre said he felt no fatigue and got better as the game progressed. “I’m trying to make their (rotation) decision as hard as possible,” Mitre said.
• Mitre’s three scoreless innings were also thanks to a terrific throw by Golson, who threw out Mark Reynolds at the plate, making an on-the-fly throw from mid center field. “We saw (his arm) last year,” Mitre said. “It’s a cannon. Saves runs.”
• Curtis Granderson hit his second spring homer, part of a two-hit day. Jorge Posada also had two hits. Of course, those came in today’s first game. The second game was a scoreless tie with four Yankees hits: Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Melky Mesa and Damon Sublett. Adam Warren and D.J. Mitchell each pitched two scoreless innings in the nightcap, Andy Sisco and Ryan Pope pitched a scoreless inning apiece.
Associated Press photos of Nunez, Granderson and Posada