One of Joe Girardi’s biggest goals this season was to rest all of his regulars, especially Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, more regularly. In setting that goal, Girardi touted the ability of Eduardo Nunez to be a super-utility player, one who could fill in at multiple positions without the team missing a beat.
But after just 31 games and a handful of costly errors all around the diamond by Nunez, what must Girardi be thinking as he watches that ability often become a liability?
Nunez had another rough game on Thursday, this time at third base, where he made errors in consecutive innings that accounted for both of the Rays’ runs. Yes, the Yankees recovered to win 5-2 and those were the only two runs the Rays scored, but the miscues put CC Sabathia in an unnecessary hole early and could have even more adversely affected a pitcher who isn’t the Yankees’ ace.
To be fair to Nunez, he did redeem himself at the plate by going 2-for-2 with a walk, two stolen bases and a run scored. And, to be more fair, he has been the ultimate team player this season, starting games at four positions, making a cameo in right field, and even taking a turn as the designated hitter.
But Nunez has now made four total errors at three different positions this season (and had a fifth in left field about 10 days ago reversed), and that number has him on pace to top last season’s total of 20 – a total that was fifth in the American League despite Nunez playing just 112 games.
In a manager’s mind, when does a mistake (or two) become a trend…and when do you begin to try to find a way around it?
From Girardi during his post-game presser on Wednesday: "I think we’re going to have to evaluate a little bit how much we move him around, in a sense. Maybe it’s just difficult for him, all the different throws, for a kid that was used to playing shortstop. A lot of times, a utility guy is a guy that has experience; has played some short, maybe some other places, then you ask him to play one other position. We’ve basically asked him to play three or four different positions that he had never played before until he got here. We’re just going to have to keep working with him. You can see how valuable his bat is and his speed is, it’s just been difficult for him, the adjustments.”
Nunez can hit, and he can run; those traits have never been doubted, and both his .271 career average and 33 career stolen bases in 162 games prove that. And yes, as Girardi somewhat noted (and many analysts agree on), being a utility player is somewhat harder than playing the same position regularly, because the fact that every position has different throws, responsibilities, and angles makes repetition impossible.
But many of his errors seem to come on what appear to be routine plays (much like the two on Thursday), and this year at least, all of them have been costly in some way.
Sure, when you’re “replacing” players like Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Robinson Cano – who have won eight total Gold Gloves between them in the last decade – it is easy to see a tiny “molehill” mistake magnified into a mountain. But no matter what walk of life you are in or how difficult a job you may have, consistent lack of performance at some point will earn you a re-assignment.
In Nunez’ case that might seem to be a stint in Triple-A to work out some defensive kinks, but the Yankees might not have many (if any) “better” options in-house to make that kind of move.
Until they do, either Girardi will have to put aisde his goal of resting players regularly or Nunez will continue to play nearly every day. If it's the latter, then for both his and the team’s sake, hopefully he can put it all together before one of those molehill mistakes turns into a mountain the Yankees can’t climb.