It was way back in 2006 that Eduardo Nunez first tried to shorten his arm action, but he was 19, and Baseball America was already calling him the sixth-best prospect in the Yankees system, and the new mechanics didn’t feel quite right. So, Nunez scrapped them. Over the next seven years, he learned the hard way that a change was necessary.
“It’s my arm action,” Nunez said. “They got me to do that. That’s why I’m excited. I don’t throw too many balls in the stands anymore.”
This spring, Nunez got the same advice he first received seven years ago: Simplify the motion; simplify the throw. And so far, it’s worked. With Derek Jeter possibly heading for the disabled list, there’s a solid chance Nunez will be the Yankees Opening Day shortstop, and there’s finally reason to think he can handle the defensive part of that job.
It was during fielding drills earlier this spring that Joe Girardi, infield coach Mick Kelleher and Derek Jeter pushed Nunez to make the switch and stick with it.
“Joe told me, ‘Why don’t you try this?’” Nunez explained. “Mick said, ‘Yeah, why not?’ Jeet told me, ‘Yeah, do this. I think it’s going to work because you’re too long with the ball in your hand.’ OK, let me try. … I still am uncomfortable sometimes, but I know it’s going to work.”
Nunez has stuck with it, and the Yankees are — for now — sticking with Nunez. Brian Cashman made it plain and clear that Nunez will be the Yankees starting shortstop if Jeter isn’t ready to open the season. This is the same Nunez who the Yankees optioned to Triple-A last season but never traded away this winter.
“I think you saw some inconsistencies in (his throwing) last year,” Girardi said. “That could’ve been (because) we moved him all over the place. We’ve been pretty adamant about keeping him at shortstop. We weren’t exactly sure where Derek was going to be. Our belief was that he was still going to be back, but you have to protect yourself.”
Nunez said Kelleher has stressed the importance of footwork — “I feel lighter, like dancing a little bit,” Nunez said — and the combination has led to a more consistent spring. It’s led to a more promising spring, and it’s come at a time when the Yankees might finally some real help up the middle.
“It’s hard when you know you can do better than that, and you’re not doing it,” Nunez said. “I hear a lot of things. People blame you. ‘You suck.’ ‘You can’t do this.’ That’s hard, but everything that I hear – comments about myself – they make me stronger. I tell myself, I work hard and I (will) prove them wrong. The people that talked about me bad, they’re wrong.”
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Associated Press photo