Based on the numbers and based on conversations with people in the Yankees organization, Eduardo Nunez seemed to take a defensive step forward last season. He’d been touted for his strong arm since he came into the system — Baseball America said it was full 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale — but Nunez battled inconsistency, and even in his breakout 2009 season, he made 33 errors with Double-A Trenton. Last season in Triple-A, he cut that number to 14, 10 of them coming at his natural shortstop position.
This season, he’s already made five errors. He made two this afternoon — one of them costly — and he also made two in his only other start at shortstop this season.
“For Nuney it’s a frustrating day,” Joe Girardi said. “But we believe in this kid, and we don’t believe this is who this kid is. He’s a kid that’s exciting when he’s on the base paths, and he’s shown that he’s got some pop in his bat, and he can do some things offensively. He’s struggling a little bit right now throwing, and it’s something we have to get him through.”
It’s easy to see what the Yankees like about Nunez. He had two hits including an RBI single today. He’s hitting .385 while showing the ability to steal a base off the bench. He has enough range to play anywhere in the infield, and his arm strength is legitimate. Girardi said that strength leaves him little margin for error. If his throw is off, it can be nearly impossible to handle.
Nunez said he feels comfortable, and he doesn’t necessarily think he’s rushing his throws. He’s just not making good throws. “I was thinking, ‘Give me another one,’ so I could catch it and make a good throw,” he said.
Some good perspective came from Alex Rodriguez.
“For one, depth is an issue,” he said. “He could play a little bit more shallow. Once you catch the ball, the runner’s already at first base and it creates a lot of pressure on the throw… You don’t play shortstop with your arm. You don’t play infield with your arm. Arm is just a plus. Infield is only played with your legs. You’ve got to come get the ball, narrow the path and narrow the throw. If you’re throwing 160 feet every time, that’s a lot of pressure. If you make that 135 feet, it makes it a lot easier play. That’s something he’s going to get with time. It’s a little bit complex, what I’m trying to explain.
“I made a lot of the same mistakes.”
Here’s Rodriguez after the game. He started talking about Eric Chavez, then got into Nunez and the series as a whole.
• Really, it was a pretty good start for A.J. Burnett, with the exception of some pitches that got away from him. Through seven innings, he allowed just three hits and two earned runs, but hit batters, walks and errors — leading to three unearned runs — crushed him and the Yankees. “I start with the walk and the hit batter in the bunt situation,” Burnett said. “You have to get an out right there. The errors, that happens. It’s not like they’re not trying.”
• The pitch that bothered Burnett most was the one that hit Ryan Raburn when Raburn was trying to lay down a sacrifice bunt in the seventh. “I just tried to throw it belt high or a little above, get him to pop it up,” Burnett said. “It just rose out on me.”
• All things considered, Burnett was happy with his outing: “That’s the best I’ve felt out there in a while as far as repeating delivery out of both the windup and the stretch,” he said. “I threw a lot of hooks for strikes, which helped a lot. It’s a tough one to swallow.”
• All four Yankees starters went at least seven innings this series, but the Yankees scored a total of 10 runs, half of them in the opener. “We pitched well,” Mark Teixeira said. “We just didn’t play defense and we didn’t hit when we needed to.”
• Speaking of Teixeira, he said he was stuck between two scenarios on the Nunez throw that went high and let two runners score. “If I jump it’s a run (because the batter will be safe),” Teixeira said. “If I don’t jump, it’s either an out or two runs. Kind of a do-or-die there. I thought maybe I could stretch it and keep my foot on, but I just couldn’t do it.”
• According to the YES Network, the last time Rodriguez was used as a regular-season pinch runner was in 1995 for Tino Martinez. “For Tino?” Rodriguez said. “That makes sense.”
• When Girardi went to third base to check on Eric Chavez, Steve Donohue seemed to be checking Chavez for a long time on the field. It was more or less an act. The Yankees knew Chavez was coming out. “I was trying to get Alex loose,” Girardi said. “I don’t need another third baseman getting hurt.”
• Girardi said Derek Jeter will play tomorrow.
• Usually this sort of thing is meaningless, but today I thought Girardi was right: “We hit bullets all over the place today,” he said. “Sometimes they’re going to be caught. What are you going to do? We hit the ball hard today.”
• Weird moment in the middle of the sixth when a fan jumped into the Yankees dugout while trying to get onto the field. He was subdued immediately by stadium security, handcuffed and taken away. “He jumped on the stairs and was probably trying to go on the field, but when he jumped on the stairs he fell,” Girardi said. “We weren’t far away from him. It kind of shocked us.”
Associated Press photos