Twins unsure about Nunez as everyday player

Twins unsure about Nunez as everyday player

MINNEAPOLIS -- Eduardo Nunez has played himself into regular playing time with the Twins, but manager Paul Molitor isn't quite ready to say he's emerged as an everyday player in the long-term.

Nunez, though, has surprisingly been the club's best hitter this year, and went 2-for-4 with a homer, a stolen base and two runs scored in Minnesota's 7-5 loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday. Nunez is hitting .335/.363/.516 with seven homers, 22 RBIs, 12 stolen bases and 27 runs in 47 games. He's started 27 of the last 28 games, and he has supplanted Eduardo Escobar as the club's starting shortstop in the short-term with the way he's played. Nunez started at third base against the Rays on Sunday, however, as Escobar started at short.

Molitor has been impressed by Nunez and said he's going to continue to give him regular playing time, but he said it's hard to say whether the 28-year-old can be an everyday player going forward after seeing action in a utility role for the first six years of his career.

"It's a slippery slope as far as projecting a guy into that role who has played well for a couple months," Molitor said. "If you base it on how he's performed, it's easy to speculate he could be one of those guys who sheds the role as a utility guy. But I think it's too early for that. I'm hopeful for that. It would be great for our team and for his career, but we're just going to ride it for right now."

Nunez said it's always been his goal to be an everyday infielder, and told Molitor as much in 2014, when Molitor was the club's infield coach under manager Ron Gardenhire. With injuries to Trevor Plouffe and Escobar this year, Nunez finally got his chance, and he's been able to make the most of it.

"I think I'm the same player, I just have more an opportunity to play," Nunez said. "I think the key is more consistent playing time. I know that because I'm in the lineup, I can make adjustments quicker than before. Before, I used to play once a week, and it was hard to make adjustments."

Nunez hit well in a limited role last year, batting .282/.327/.431 with four homers, 14 doubles and 20 RBIs in 72 games. So he said he doesn't believe his breakout year is an aberration.

"I'm not surprised," Nunez said. "Like last year, you'd see me go 2-for-4 with a homer, but then I'd be back on the bench for like a week. But now you see 2-for-4, and the next day, I'm in the lineup so I can still do that."

Nunez has played in 47 of Minnesota's 56 games, and Molitor joked that heading into the season he didn't think he'd have to worry about finding a day off for Nunez, who was expected to play sparingly. Nunez, though, has forced his hand into playing him every day, and Nunez is just fine without a day off.

"I think I had so many days off the last couple years, I don't need one now," Nunez said with a laugh.

Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.