Improved Nunez carves out spot in lineup

Improved Nunez carves out spot in lineup

Improved Nunez carves out spot in lineup
NEW YORK -- Derek Jeter could return to shortstop as early as Tuesday, but Eduardo Nunez might find himself in the lineup regardless of the captain's status.

The 25-year-old Nunez started at shortstop against the Rays on Sunday for the fourth consecutive game while Jeter nurses a bone bruise in his left ankle, but manager Joe Girardi said Nunez's play warrants consideration for designated hitter against left-handed starters.

Nunez is 5-for-14 with a double, a homer and a stolen base since rejoining the Yankees as a September callup. Nunez has a hit in each of his past three starts in place of Jeter at shortstop, and he homered in Saturday's 5-3 win a night after making a costly error in the ninth inning of a loss.

"I was first excited he was back in the lineup," Alex Rodriguez said after Nunez went 1-for-3 on Saturday. "Enormous, enormous ability, very high ceiling for us. You can see the way he handles at-bats, key at-bats. He can turn around on 100 miles per hour and handles offspeed very well, and that's a rare combination. He showed a lot with the way he played today, and it was a good step for him."

Girardi gave Nunez a pep talk prior to Saturday's game, reminding him to focus on the positive plays he made at shortstop, not the one error.

Entering Sunday, Nunez had made five errors this season -- four in his earlier stint with the club, when he appeared at shortstop, second base, third base and both corner outfield spots. The Yankees made an effort to allow Nunez to concentrate solely on shortstop after sending him to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and they are pleased enough with his development that Girardi said he would not consider lifting Nunez late in games for a defensive substitute.

"He's made some really good plays here, some balls that aren't easy in the hole, and it shows his strong arm and his range," Girardi said. "There's balls he's going to get to that maybe some of the other guys won't."