This was not a bad lineup Vidal Nuno faced this afternoon. The Orioles rolled out Nick Markakis, J.J. Hardy, Nelson Cruz and Chris Davis in the top four spots in the order, and Nuno faced each of those guys twice. He finished with four scoreless innings, one hit, one walk and three strikeouts.
“It’s just mixing pitches, not using my fastball that much, locating better and just having that confidence,” Nuno said. “I’m not a flamethrower. A guy that mixes in the breaking balls and cutter and changeup. They’ve seen the other side of me, mixing it in, and that’s how I got them off balance. Yeah, I’d fall behind in the count and not put them away early, but there’s again that routine and just being positive with it.”
Although he’s clearly seen as the long-shot of the four fifth-starter candidates, Nuno has pitched awfully well this spring. He has a 1.50 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, nine strikeouts and only one walk through six innings. That’s not counting his three-strikeout, two-inning start against Florida State in the exhibition opener.
“His offspeed is really good, and his fastball has good plane on it,” fill-in manager Rob Thomson said. “They don’t seem to get good swings on it. And he can locate his fastball. So it’s a really great repertoire that he’s got. … He works fast, throws strikes, changes speed behind in the count, throws all his pitches for strikes, and he’s a valuable guy because he can pick up a lot of innings out of the bullpen, he can start, and he can get lefties out. So he’s a versatile guy.”
With Michael Pineda showing some encouraging results, and David Phelps pitching well — not to mention Adam Warren, who’s pitching tonight in Panama — I find it hard to think Nuno will break camp in that open rotation spot, but it’s worth wondering whether the Yankees could find a spot for him in the bullpen. Could be in their best interest to keep him stretched out in Triple-A, but Nuno does have a 40-man spot and he does bring some value in a versatile role.
“Maturity and just knowing that I’ve seen what happened last year and how everything works down here; it just helps me move forward and try to do the best I can do,” Nuno said. “… Being in big-league camp again and just knowing that I’m fighting for a job, still just going out there and enjoying it. You never know what’s going to happen the next day. Pretty much take it day by day.”
· In his return to his old spring training home, Brian Roberts got a pretty nice ovation for his first at-bat, then he went 2-for-3 with a pair of singles. “Brian Roberts was great today,” Thomson said. “He hit the ball hard three times. Ichiro hit the ball hard once. Kelly Johnson hit the ball hard once or twice. So it was good.”
· Talking about a play Roberts made up the middle, Thomson said that “Robbie” made a great play. It was hard not to immediately think of Robinson Cano. Apparently Roberts has inherited that nickname.
· In six innings, Kelly Johnson made four plays at third. Handled them all. Nothing too crazy, but it was a decent number of plays for a guy learning the position. “He’s done a lot of work with (infield coach) Mick (Kelleher),” Thomas said. “Almost every day they’ve been on that back field one on one, doing stuff, reading ground balls, top-spin ground balls and being able to move his feet and create the proper hop. He’s coming along fine.”
· The AP reporter who stayed behind in Tampa reported that Jacoby Ellsbury skipped the on-field batting practice session but went through other drills. Thomson said he heard of nothing wrong with Ellsbury, and it’s likely he either went inside to hit or simply decided not to take a full round of batting practice. Sounds like a complete non-issue.
· Thomson said all of the guys who stayed back for batting practice today — including Ellsbury and Eduardo Nunez — will be in the lineup tomorrow. Ichiro Suzuki will also play for a second straight day tomorrow.
· Mason Williams went hitless today, and he’s hitting just .143 this spring, but Thomson works with outfielders quite a bit down here and said he’s been impressed with the young center fielder. “Mason is a really, really good defender in center field,” Thomson said. “He’s got great instincts and gets jumps off the ball, reads bat speed well, direct routes to the ball. He covers a lot of space out there. … He’s grown up and he’s a little bit more poised around here, and a little more relaxed I guess. And he’s getting stronger. He hit that ball off the wall in Houston a couple weeks ago or last week, and today just missed a home run. He’s starting to use the field a little bit and the ball is jumping off the bat a little bit more. He’s grown up.”
· Good day for Ramon Flores who had two hits including a double. He did, however, stop going home on a fly ball to center field in the fifth inning. It wasn’t a particularly deep fly ball, but the throw was off line and Flores probably could have scored if he’d kept going. Thomson said he spoke to Flores on the bench about reading the situation — it was a scoreless game at the time, the fly ball was the second out of the inning — and using that to determine the risk-reward of trying to score in a situation like that. “Gotta feel that run might be the only run of the game,” Thomson said. Young player. Thomson indicated it was more of a teaching moment than anything.
· Box score notes: The Yankees only run came on a solo homer by Francisco Arcia against Chris Tilman. … Roberts and Flores had four of the Yankees six hits. Arcia had another, and minor league addition Taylor Dugas added a double. Got it off Darren O’Day as well. Pretty good pitcher against a relatively inexperienced hitter. … Dan Burawa was one out away from two scoreless innings, but Chris Davis clubbed a solo home run to center field. It was a game-tying shot. … Mark Montgomery allowed his first base runner of the spring. It was a leadoff single by Delmon Young, which ultimately led to the go-ahead run in the seventh. … Brian Gordon pitched a scoreless, hitless ninth.
· Give the last word to Nuno today: “Pretty much you’re just having a good time being around the guys, and whatever happens happens. Let the front office decide who’s going to do what and where.”
Associated Press photos