Nunez returns to Bronx in midst of breakout '16

Nunez returns to Bronx in midst of breakout '16

NEW YORK -- This series at Yankee Stadium marks Eduardo Nunez's third time returning to the Bronx since he was traded to the Twins by New York after losing a battle for the final roster spot to Yangervis Solarte in 2014.

But for the first time, the former utility infielder for the Yankees is appearing as an everyday player with an All-Star case. Nunez is in the midst of a breakout 2016 campaign in which he is second among American League shortstops with a .315 average and third in the league with 17 stolen bases. He continued his strong season with a two-run single in the Twins' 5-3 loss to the Yankees in Friday's opener.

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As always, he expected and received a hearty New York welcome.

"Always," said Nunez with a big grin. "Always, they boo you here. That's how it works when you're over here."

Nunez's two-run single

Nunez stuck around the Yankees for four seasons in a super-utility role, hitting .267 with 10 homers, 76 RBIs and 48 stolen bases in 270 games. He was once considered one of the top options to take over for Derek Jeter once The Captain retired, but Nunez never got the chance to start for New York and was sent to the Twins for Minor League starter Miguel Sulbaran.

Nunez doesn't know yet if the boos from the Yankee faithful will be any louder this time around because of his success this season, but he insists that he's not going to treat this trip any differently.

"No, it's not that different," Nunez said. "I just have a job to do -- win the games."

There certainly aren't any hard feelings, and Nunez maintains lots of friendships in the New York clubhouse and relishes the chance to see family in the area and enjoy the food in the city, which is what he misses the most about being a Yankee.

He understands that consistent playing time was always going to be hard to find in New York given that he was sharing the infield with a couple of future Hall of Famers.

"They didn't have space for me. Jeter, Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez -- you see those guys, there's no space," he said. "The best thing that happened for me was when they traded me."

"When he's had opportunities in the past couple of years to get in and play in shorter bursts, he's been a good player," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "I think it was one of those situations where he was patient and he waited for his opportunity and he's taken advantage.

"He's earned an everyday label. There's just been a real consistency about how he's gone about playing defense, his at-bats, running the bases."

Worth noting

• Outfielder Miguel Sano was set to begin his rehab assignment with Triple-A Rochester on Friday. He was scheduled to play five innings at third base and will play seven innings at third on Saturday and start at DH on Sunday barring any setbacks. The Twins do not yet have a timetable for his return, and will look to call him up when they are confident in his hitting.

• Third baseman Trevor Plouffe is still confident that he will avoid a trip to the disabled list after suffering a mild right groin strain in Minnesota's 7-3 loss to Philadelphia on Thursday, but Molitor is opting to remain more cautious in his outlook. Plouffe did not participate in baseball activities before Friday's game, with Nunez getting the start at third.

"He's better than I thought he would be today, which is encouraging," Molitor said. "Being able to walk around a little bit compared to going around and playing baseball at this level are two different things."

• Reliever Trevor May threw a good bullpen session before Friday's game and will head to Rochester to begin his rehab assignment. He is scheduled to pitch an inning in relief on Sunday.

Do-Hyoung Park is a reporter for MLB.com based in Minneapolis. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.