Vidal Nuno was a 48th-round draft pick out of some school called Baker University. He lasted fewer than two years in the Indians farm system before being released in 2011. He went to independent ball for a while, got a minor league contract with the Yankees, pitched himself all the way to the big leagues last year, then missed the second half of last season with a groin injury. He’s not a guy who’s status in the game is held up by steel cables. He hangs by a thread.
Did he believe his job on the line tonight?
“Probably,” Nuno said.
His response to that sort of on-the-ledge outing was to deliver the longest scoreless performance of his career.
“It’s not a guy that throws 95, it’s not a guy with a wipe-out slider,” Girardi said. “It’s just a guy that goes out and competes and finds a way to get it done. He’s beaten a lot of the odds, in a sense, where he’s had to almost start over and come back and worked his way up. He throws strikes. You know that he’s going to throw strikes. You know that he doesn’t get intimidated by a situation. I like that about him.”
That might be true, but lately every vote of confidence from Girardi has come with some admission that options are limited — “I’ve had confidence in (Nuno)” Girardi said tonight. “But we’re in a situation where these are the five guys that we have” — so Nuno had to do something to prove he’s more than simply the best of a bad situation. One outing against an unimpressive lineup might not have done that, but it was at least a step in that direction. It was something hopeful in a season that was turning sour.
“It’s been a grind this year,” Nuno said. “Off and on, just coming from last year’s injury and just having those months off and trying to figure out what kind of pitcher I am. Sometimes I’ve been trying to over-stride and just trying to overpower and just try to do stuff that it wasn’t in my capability of doing. Leaving balls up in the zone, that was a key of just making mistakes. Today I really didn’t make no mistakes.”
Whether it means anything at all going forward is a topic for another today. For tonight, a guy who badly needed a strong start delivered. He held on.
“Just another day that I had the opportunity to prove that I could pitch,” Nuno said.
• The Yankees hit three home runs for the first time since May 17. Brett Gardner and Kelly Johnson hit back-to-back homers in the fourth, the fourth time this season that the Yankees hit consecutive home runs this season. “It seems like we been hitting a few more,” Girardi said. “We hit a few on the home stand last time and we hit a few on the road and it seems like we’re hitting a few more, so, I believe they’re going come. We went through some times when they were up and down but I really believe that these guys are going to contribute and put up numbers.”
• Gardner’s home run was his seventh of the season, one away from his single-season career high. Johnson’s home run was his first since May 3. Brian McCann’s home run was his ninth of the season, the second-most on the team.
• Dellin Betances kind of stumbled on a pitch in the seventh inning, but he stayed in the game and seems fine. “He just slipped,” Girardi said. “He said his stride was a little bit long on that pitch. It’s long on every pitch! That’s what happens when you’re 6-8.”
• McCann had two hits. One was the home run, the other was a single to the left side to beat the shift. “Just depends on what the pitch is,” McCann said. “I got a fastball away and put a good swing on it (for the single).”
• Girardi on McCann going the other way: “He’s done it (before). He’s done it. I’ve seen him get hits that way. But obviously it will help him. It helps him stay on the ball. It will change if you can continually do it, it will change. I don’t want him to get away from what he does too much, but when you can start hitting the ball the other way, it can change how people defense you.”
• This was actually Nuno’s first ever win at Yankee Stadium, and his first ever appearance against the Red Sox.
• Nuno on his catcher: “Pretty much McCann called the whole game. It’s his call, pretty much. I really don’t shake. I just trust him. He has that game plan and he studies the hitters and everything. (I’m) going out there and competing and just doing what I do to get these hitters out.”
• The Yankees are now 6-2 against the Red Sox this season, matching their 2013 win total against Boston. The Yankees have won four of their first five home games against the Red Sox after winning just three home games against Boston all of last year.
• Speaking of Boston, the Red Sox are 2-6 on their current 10-game road trip.
• Final word goes to Nuno: “Every day has been tough lately. Just knowing that my command wasn’t there. I’ve been working on it. Pretty much it’s a confidence booster tonight to show that I can still belong here and attack these guys, and with my stuff I can win games.”
Associated Press photos