There are a handful of big names currently working their way back to the Bronx from injuries, but Eduardo Nunez is still not quite in that “big name” category with the likes of Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson.
But despite his status as a secondary piece for the Yankees, Nunez played a primary role in Saturday’s 5-4 win over the Baltimore Orioles.
“He’s the guy that you kind of touted as an everyday player for awhile,” Joe Girardi said. “He has the ability to really contribute offensively, to play good defense, steal a lot of bases and do a lot of different things. He has a lot of tools, so for him, it’s keeping him healthy and getting him out there.”
Nunez did a little bit of everything in his first big league game since May 5, going 2 for 3 with a run scored and two RBI. His biggest hit came in the sixth inning with the game tied at 4-4 to drive in the winning run.
All it took was one game for Nunez to remind us that he can be a difference-maker for this club in the final three months of the season.
“I feel excited,” Nunez said. “I feel very good, and I’m happy to do what I love to do. The best part is that we won.”
• Remember where the Yankees were at this time last week? They had lost five in a row and looked lifeless on offense, but things have changed rather quickly. Now they have a season-high six-game winning streak, and seem to be doing all of the little things to win. “Everyone is feeling good about themselves,” Andy Pettitte said.
• While Pettitte was speaking for most of the Yankees when he said that everyone is feeling good, his frustration with his tendency to allow runs early seems to be mounting. He gave up a two-run homer to Chris Davis in the first and an RBI double to Alexis Casilla in the second to put the Yankees in an early 3-0 hole. Davis’ homer looked like a popup off of the bat, but as Pettitte said, “that’s just a big, strong man right there.” He now leads the majors with 33 dingers, but that didn’t ease Pettitte’s disappointment. “I felt decent,” he said. “I felt pretty good about the pitch. I put it where I wanted to with Davis, and I think he thought he hit a fly ball to center. I kind of watched his reaction, but the ball just kept going. That’s two runs right there. Getting down early is frustrating. I tell you what, I’m just trying as hard as I can to mentally stay into it.”
• There have now been several starts in which Pettitte has stated that he felt good, yet he’s still given up early runs. He has been consistently getting two strikes on hitters, but he’s also had difficulty putting them away at times. It’s good to hear that he feels like his command is there and he’s healthy, but it’s interesting that he continues to scratch his head about why he’s been giving up more runs than usual. You can hear the frustration in his voice. “Usually when you throw the ball where you want to, you usually feel like that’s going to be an out,” he said. “Right now, that’s not happening. Balls that I feel like I’m locating in pretty good in certain counts – when you release them, you usually know if it’s going to be an out, and if it’s not, it might be a jam shot. Right now it just feels like maybe my pitch selection is not the right one.”
• To Pettitte’s credit, he battled today and seemed to get better as the game wore on. He only allowed two hits after the fourth and gave the Yankees 6 2/3 innings. “He kind of dialed it in after about the third inning,” Girardi said. “He looked good. The first couple of innings, I knew he threw a fastball to Davis that cut, and it was not supposed to cut. It led to a two-run homer, which again, we didn’t think it was going to be a home run. The ball seems to be carrying very well, and he’s so strong that his pop ups are going to go out. But he seemed to figure it out after the third inning.”
• The Yankees didn’t have an extra base-hit today, but they did finish with 10 singles. These are certainly not your typical Bronx Bombers, but they’ve been finding ways to scratch across just enough runs during this six-game winning streak. Here’s a good stat for you: The Yankees are 28-1 this season when scoring at least five runs.
• After going down 3-0, the Yankees picked up two runs in the bottom of the second. Luis Cruz singled with the bases loaded to drive in a run, and Nunez followed with a sac fly to make it 3-2. Taylor Teagarden made it 4-2 Baltimore with an RBI single in the fourth, but RBI singles from Ichiro Suzuki and Robinson Cano tied the game at 4-4 in the fifth. That set the table for Nunez to be the hero in the sixth, as he singled up the middle to score a hustling Lyle Overbay from second base. ” ‘Just make it anyway you can,’ ” Girardi said he was thinking as Overbay rounded third. “It almost looked like the catcher was ready to, like there might have been a collision if it presented itself. Lyle was running hard and playing hard.”
• Girardi was asked if he was surprised that Nunez played so well despite only having played a handful of rehab games. He only got 16 at-bats before rejoining the Yankees today. “Younger players are always a little bit different,” Girardi said. “The fact that he went through a full spring training and played the first month, you figured he wouldn’t be as rusty. And Nunie is kind of free-spirit, so I don’t think Nunie probably thought much about not having a lot of at-bats.”
• Nunez will play shortstop almost everyday until Jeter returns, but you have to figure that the Yankees will want to find ways to get him in games after that — especially considering their lack of quality right-handed bats. Nunez was asked if he’s done any work at any position other than shortstop. “My focus is just on shortstop right now,” he said. “They haven’t told me anything about moving my position.”
• One guy who has been getting work at another position is Vernon Wells. He was taking grounders at first base before today’s game, and based on the way that Girardi answered the question, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get a start there sometime soon. “It could be something we mess around with,” he said. “We’re in midst of 20 in a row, and Lyle has played basically everyday. We’re looking at some different options.”
• The bullpen was effective again, with Shawn Kelley, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera combining for 2 1/3 scoreless innings. Rivera picked up his 29th save. “The bullpen has been awesome all year,” Pettitte said. “Mo has been awesome his entire career. You can’t say enough about how great of a job our bullpen has been doing this year.”
• I’ll give the final word to Pettitte: “It’s been a grind for me. You hate putting us in a hole like I have been. I’m just fortunate that we were able to get back into and get some big hits today.”
Associated Press photos