It’s going to be a while before Derek Jeter is ready to play in games, and that means playing time for someone else. Most notably, it means playing time for Eduardo Nunez.
“I can’t kill him,” Joe Girardi said. “I can’t play him nine innings every day, but he’s going to play a substantial amount.”
Nunez and Jeter went through shortstop drills together again today, and the Yankees plan to keep Nunez at short this spring, and there’s little doubt that the Yankees idea of letting Jeter DH against lefties in the regular season leaves a legitimate opportunity for Nunez to get big league playing time again.
“I want Jeter to be healthy again and play how he plays,” Nunez said. “But for now, it’s my opportunity to show I can play every day and show I can play defense. I can do different things than people think I can do. … I feel great right now. My confidence is (high). I know what I can do. I know what kind of player I can be, and that I can be right now.”
Girardi said the Yankees will look for consistency out of Nunez, and that should come as little surprise. Nunez has shown flashes of being a valuable big leaguer — most recently, he played well during his short time playing in Jeter’s place during the ALCS — but his defensive lapses are well documented.
“He has to earn it,” Girardi said. “We’ve got to toy with some different options, but we liked what he did at the end of last year. We know he provides a lot of excitement. Our plans are probably to keep him at short for the most part — we did talk about that — but he does have to earn it.”
Girardi said there’s a chance the Yankees could carry both Nunez and Jayson Nix, but it would leave the Yankees without a left-handed pinch hitter, which they’d like to have. Ultimately, Girardi repeated his familiar promise to carry the best players to make up the best team. Nunez will have a chance to put himself in that group.
“Jeter’s a Gold Glove,” Nunez said. “Cano’s a Gold Glove. (So are) Teixeira and A-Rod. You don’t see too many errors from these guys. When they come to me, I make an error, it’s a big thing. … It was a little bit in my mind, frustration for that, but I thank Jeter, thank A-Rod (and) thank Cano. They talked to me a lot and teach me how to fix that.”
• Here’s Girardi explaining the Phil Hughes injury: “It’s upper back, up here by his shoulder blades, so we’ll see how he is in a couple of days. The good thing is he was ahead of where he probably would normally be at this time, which helps. … You’re usually more concerned about the lower lingering. But until it’s gone, it’s going to linger. That’s like a Yogi-ism.”
• Despite being ahead of most of the other big league pitchers, Hughes was not in consideration to start Saturday’s spring opener even before the injury.
• Austin Romine said he’s more or less stopped thinking about his back. He doesn’t really notice it any more. Bascially a week into spring training and Romine’s had no problems so far. He’s very optimistic that he’s gotten past the problem.
• Haven’t heard much about Michael Pineda lately. He said today that his shoulder still feels good, but he’s not scheduled for another bullpen until Friday.
• David Phelps gets the opening start on Saturday, and although Girardi didn’t talk about it today, he’s always made it clear in the past that early spring outings don’t carry a lot of weight. I can’t imagine Phelps is going to feel that way. This is what he said earlier in camp: “I pushed myself a little more in the offseason so my arm is ready a little quicker during spring training because I’m trying to make an impression.”
• Speaking of making an impression, I didn’t see it, but there was some buzz today about Ichiro Suzuki’s behind-the-back catch during outfield drills. I asked Brett Gardner to describe it and Gardner started laughing. “That’s my fault,” he said. “I told him to do it.” Gardner said that Ichiro has a variety of behind-the-back catches that he’ll do every once in while when the team is shagging fly balls. Gardner wanted to see a few today, and Ichiro was up to the task. Girardi said he didn’t see Ichiro do it today, but “I’ve seen him do it before,” Girardi said.
• Mark Teixeira’s last day in Yankees camp is March 2. Robinson Cano’s last day is March 3. After that, those two will join their World Baseball Classic teams to prepare for the tournament.
• Random conversation of the day was with new outfielder Thomas Neal. If a handshake is any indication of a man’s strength, Neal just might be a 40-homer guy. I’m not sure how he uses a cell phone without crushing it. Seriously, Neal said he got some interest from the Yankees pretty soon after being designated for assignment, but he took some time making his decision on where to sign. He decided the Yankees were the best fit, with the potential for a real opportunity.
• Matt Diaz tried to convince me to write a story about his son’s tee-ball team. Seriously. He thinks that group has a real shot this year.
Associated Press photos