Vidal Nuno’s Big Chance

Tanaka leads Yankees to 9-3 win over Red Sox in series opener at Fenway
The Education of Dellin Betances
(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Through the first three weeks of the season, the starting rotation has been the clear strength of the Yankees’ roster. The lineup and bullpen have been solid overall too, don’t get me wrong, but the starting staff has really stood out to me. That rotation took a hit yesterday when it became all but official that Ivan Nova will have Tommy John surgery, ending his season. He was not particularly good before getting hurt but those are still some big shoes to fill. Nova has shown he can be excellent for weeks at a time.

The first opportunity to fill those shoes is going to Vidal Nuno, almost by default. The southpaw made a rainout/doubleheader necessitated spot start on Sunday and he lines up perfectly to fill Nova’s spot thanks to Monday’s off-day. Nuno pitched well on Sunday (five shutout innings against the Rays) and I’m sure the rotation outlook would look much different if he got bombed. It might be David Phelps or heck, even Al Aceves making the start if Sunday didn’t go well.

Nuno was part of the four-headed fifth starter competition in Spring Training but I felt he was the long shot. That he pitched so well in camp and was still the first one eliminated from the competition makes me think I wasn’t wrong. And yet, he somehow he is the first loser of that competition to land in the rotation during the regular season. Things just fell into place for him. Adam Warren has taken over as a key setup man and Phelps was needed in middle relief, leaving Nuno for the spot start. He took advantage on Sunday.

Joe Girardi didn’t mince words when announcing the 26-year-old Nuno would remain in the rotation — “He is our fifth starter now,” he said to reporters prior to last night’s game — and we all know Nova isn’t coming back anytime soon. That rotation spot is wide open and it’ll go to whoever performs the best. Nuno gets a head start on the in-house competition and that’s big. He has a chance to not give the other guys chances. If he pitches well, he’ll keep the job no questions asked. It’s the opportunity of a baseball lifetime.

Remember, Nuno is a former 48th round pick who was toiling away in an independent league before hooking on with New York a few years ago. He’s had to overcome some seriously long odds to get where he is — starting pitcher for the New York frickin’ Yankees! — and I doubt the magnitude of this opportunity is lost on him. Can his soft-ish tossing ways allow him to turn over a lineup multiple times every fifth day in the AL East? Maybe, maybe not. He’s going to get a chance to show everyone if it does despite looking like little more than the team’s eighth starter just three weeks ago.

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Tanaka leads Yankees to 9-3 win over Red Sox in series opener at Fenway
The Education of Dellin Betances
  • Yangeddard Solarte

    It has to be Nuno. BGDP has entered Joe’s circle of trust and we need him as the swing man in the pen. Aceves is a nice story but that’s not a solution. Nuno needs to step up and pitch like he did in Tampa. A soft tossing lefty can be successful in the AL East and you better hope so because that’s what CC has become.

  • CountryClub

    Based on what I saw last yr and again in camp, I’ve felt that he would be better long term than Phelps or Warren. I just hope that they truly do give him a chance. If he gets bombed Saturday against a hot Angels team I want to see him back out there for his next turn.

  • gbyanks

    Im interested to see greene start in AAA. he looked really good in spring and nuno might just be keeping the 5th spot warm until greene is stretched out.

  • Rob S.

    I think Nuno getting first crack at the fifth starter job makes perfect sense. First of all, Nuno has performed admirably whenever he has made a spot start for the Yankees. Secondly, he has not proven that he can have success as a reliever unlike Phelps and Warren. Nuno will probably take his lumps here and there but it should be kept in mind that he is a fifth starter. It was a luxury to have Pineda pitching like a top of the rotation guy out of the five hole (he’s still a nice number four) but generally you don’t expect your number five starter to dominate. You hope that he keep keep you in the game for 5 or 6 innings and I believe Nuno can do that more often than not.

  • Jorge Steinbrenner

    I think he earned it with that last start, and he slots in quite well. I think his brief body of work as an MLB starter has been encouraging. I think he’s always going to need to maintain incredibly strong control to get by with what he’s got as an MLB starter. He’s sort of always going to have to overachieve. That makes him not the safest of long-term solutions at the slot, but I don’t see why the team wouldn’t be alright in the short-term with Nuno.

  • Vidal Sassuno.

    I like Nuno more so than Phelps and Warren. There is something to be said about results, and all hes done since being in the org is put up good numbers. He might fail, but I’m glad hes getting a shot, cause I think hes up to the challenge.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      That screen name. Hmmmm.

  • CS Yankee

    I trust Nuno will be somewhere between decent and good…4-4.5’ish FIP or so.

    They just “beat up” the power lefties (Price & Lester)in the AL East so the fan base shouldn’t freak-out if Nuno tosses a clunker or two…they need to give him three or four turns before they react.

    Give him the rope, see if he can pull the wagon but not too much rope whereas he can hang himself.

  • gbyanks

    Nuno gets over looked alot because of a few reasons in no order

    1. He doesnt throw hard

    2. People assume hes older then he is (hes younger than nova)

    3. He was never considered a real prospect

    4. He doesnt look very imposing because hes short and a bit doughy

    • TWTR

      Well put.

    • Preston

      To point 2, why is it relevant that he’s younger than Nova? Nova has spent the last three years pitching at the MLB level. 3 years ago Nuno was in A ball. At age 25 he has all of 25 innings at AAA. He’s been old for his level every step of the way. That and the other three reasons are all good reasons to marginalize the guy. It doesn’t mean he can’t be the outlier. But the major leagues aren’t full of short, pudgy, soft tossers because those guys usually aren’t good enough. Not because people are biased against them.

      • Jorge Steinbrenner

        I think he’s just saying some folks may think he’s a guy who bounced around a ton before reaching the majors and is overachieving now. Not something that ever crossed my mind.

        I agree that points #2 and #4 are stretches, but I may only think that because I’ve never really considered either. Plenty of other folks may write him off for just that reason.

        Points #1 and #3 resonate huge to me, though.

      • TWTR

        From my perspective, because he looks like he’s 35, which would mean he has no upside.

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          When you’re almost 40, albeit a good-looking almost-40, Vidal Nuno no longer looks 35 to you. :)

          • TWTR

            I’m over 40, but my g/f isn’t, and that was her opinion!

            • Jorge Steinbrenner

              As long as you and I see eye-to-eye on this, her opinion will be saved for the “RAB Significant Others” forum. I heard it’s a hoot over there.

  • Preston

    There aren’t better options right now. Warren was never that impressive at AAA as a starter, and his MLB starts haven’t turned heads. At the same time he’s been really good out of the bullpen this season. Phelps is a pretty mediocre known commodity and the team obviously isn’t overly impressed or they’d be stretching him out and giving him the job. I’m not sold on Nuno. But as a soft tossing lefty his usefulness out of the bullpen is minimal. At the same time maybe he can be the kitchen sink junkballer in the mold of Mark Buehrle and Jamie Moyer. He’s probably going to get 10 starts or so to find out. If he doesn’t work out, Shane Greene hopefully will be stretched out at AAA, maybe Banuelos is putting things together, or Bryan Mitchell might be ready for a jump. Or we can just trade prospects and take on big money and get Cliff Lee.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      In ten starts, if it’s not working, what’s available in the trade market may look awfully different than it looks now.

      I wonder how many starters they wind up dipping into the trade and FA market this off-season for now. We may be looking at two, although, unless there’s further injury, I could see them keeping a lane open for Banuelos or Greene, if they continue to show promise.

      • 56

        That’s weird; I mentioned Banuelos the other day and I was told by maybe you? and about 45 other commenters “that will never happen, he will not pitch until 2021 because they need to reserve innings” or whatever the hell else gets tossed around on this forum. I’ve realized that as an occasional outside commenter, some opinions don’t get counted, regardless of how much logic (or evidence) is put behind them. Oh well and yes, I agree, Banuelos could be an option in June/July.

        • The Great Gonzo

          Knowing what I know about RAB, I could just about assure you it wasn’t Jorge that said that. I could name 10 other dudes that it coulda been off the top of mind, but it wasn’t Jorge.

          Maybe he anecdotally told you about a burrito and a microwave, but not about Banuelos 2021.

          • Jorge Steinbrenner

            I think he may have actually directly quoted me there.

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          Obvious tiny Internet penis is obvious.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      Forgot to mention Mitchell, but you did above.

    • CS Yankee

      They’re only down one starter, likely the weakest one at that, and had three or four possible solutions.

      I would save the Cliff Lee, et all solutions in the cookie jar and see where we’re sitting come June or July. Feeling like we have four high quality starters and one “cracker jack” surprise type starter. It’ll be fun to see what you get and I’ll look forward to seeing him, but not as much as the “new kids” (Tanaka & Pineda).

    • GeneralChaos

      Greene, Banuelos and Mitchell – not a single inning of AAA thrown between them and you’re ready to hand the MLB fifth starting spot to one of them? What happened to all the rotation guys already in AAA? Isn’t that why they’re there – to get that call up?

      • Preston

        Nope, those guys are there as placeholders for actual prospects. Greene hasn’t been starting at AAA because he was competing for the big league roster, when he gets stretched out he’s the best starter we have at AAA. Banuelos is rehabbing from TJ sugery. He’s in Tampa for the weather and the facilities, and he has experience at AAA, as well as the most upside of the bunch. Mitchell is a long way off, but he’s been really good the last few starts at AA, he’ll probably get a mid-season promotion if he’s keeps it up, and then he’s a shuttle ride away from the big league rotation. If Brian Gordon or Bruce Billings are called upon to do more than make a spot start we’re in trouble. Chase Whitley might be interesting, but he’s a converted reliever, so let’s wait and see.

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          If Mitchell’s actually showing success at harnessing his stuff, his climb up the ladder should be pretty quick. Fingers crossed.

      • Jorge Steinbrenner

        1. Banuelos has thrown innings at AAA, pre-surgery.

        2. Our AAA rotation, other than Greene, is a combination of veteran filler and fringe/org guys.

        3. I’m not seeing where anyone wants to hand a rotation spot to any of them. However, much like with Pineda, if the team is strong enough at the other four slots, having an “open lane” of sorts for someone to try to grab is not a bad way of doing things if you want to eventually stop hitting the FA market for all your starters.

        • GeneralChaos

          My point was the other day I was ridiculed for suggesting that some of the AA pitchers deserved a chance to go to AAA to see what they could do at that level. At this point of the season Tracy, Nuding and Mitchell all have sub3 eras. If the retreads at AAA can’t be relied on to fill a MLB spot, why are they there? I’m not saying any of the AA pitchers are ready to make that jump, but keeping them in AA so a retread can “hold a spot” in AAA serves no purpose other than to delay the development of the AA guys.

          • GeneralChaos

            Mitchell’s era is not sub3, first 2 games blew that out, since then he’s done well.

          • Preston

            They are keeping them in AA because that’s where they think they should be. You shouldn’t promote a guy just because of a vacancy. Plenty of guys at plenty of levels are just org filler. Those guys will get there work in at AA. When they’re ready to get challenged they’ll move them up.

  • CountryClub

    With the off day coming on Monday, they could skip his next start (the one after Saturday), but I don’t think they will.

  • Hornblower

    The comments are excellent. Nuno has never had a bad start for the Yankees. He really is not a reliever. If he gets a full season of starts he can be a solid contributor.

  • Steve (different one)

    Nuno throws harder than Pettitte did the last few years. Of course Pettitte was much more talented, but it’s not like it’s impossible to succeed at that velocity level as a lefty.

    • Preston

      He throws as hard, but not harder. Anecdotally batters say that guys who are taller appear to be throwing faster than they are, so Pettitte being 7 inches taller and throwing 89 is better than Nuno throwing 89.

  • LK

    Nuno as a 5th starter is probably fine. Lest we forget, that 2009 juggernaught had Sergio Mitre holding down the 5th spot for much of the year.

    However, it does seem like the staff might start to get stretched a little thin. We’ve heard they want to take it a little easy on CC because of all the miles on his arm; on Kuroda because of his age; on Tanaka because he’s starting every 5th day for the first time; and on Pineda because he’s coming back from shoulder surgery and hasn’t pitched 200 innings before. That in conjunction with Nuno as SP5 could lead to a lot of innings for the bullpen. Fortunately Girardi has proven adept at allocating innings so everyone remains as fresh and effective as possible.

    It might make sense to make a move for someone who can be counted on to eat innings. Or maybe they should just trade for Cliff Lee and leave this whole “allowing runs” bullshit behind.

    • LarryM Fl

      I do not think his wife will OK the trade.

      • LK

        You might be right, but I’ve always felt that story was pretty overblown.

        • Preston

          Because fans in Philly are so great.

    • Yan Solo

      Sergio Mitre *shivers uncontrollably from the awful memories of Sergio Mitre*

  • LarryM Fl

    Nuno is a soft tosser much as CC. But Nuno is there all ready. By this I mean that he has pitched this way all his professional career. His last outing gave him the nod over Warren and Phelps. Myself I liked Warren out of the punch on the 25 man roster but have seen guys such Whitey Ford, Tommy John and Jimmy Key pitch for the Yanks with success. There is something about a lefty soft thrower with breaking pitches that make his fastball appear faster.

    I would adjust the rotation when the opportunity presents itself to give some separation from CC and Nuno.

    I wish him luck. It should be interesting for the defense to support him because there will be balls in play.

    Nuno will have his moments when the sun, moon and stars are aligned and it all fits in like a glove and then there are the other games!

    • Long-Past-His-Day-Rod

      Haha, nice. You posted almost the same thing I was thinking, 4 minutes earlier.

      • LarryM Fl

        What is that saying, great minds…

    • LarryM Fl

      I forgot about Andy P. but I remember him hitting 95 in his younger days but became a soft thrower. It can be done.

  • Long-Past-His-Day-Rod

    Here’s something I’d like to see discussed:

    People always classify Vidal Nuno as a “soft-tossing” lefty who needs to hit his spots perfectly to be effective and has a very small margin for error. I don’t really dispute that, but I’m encouraged by his MLB starts to date.

    You know another “soft-tossing” lefty on the Yankees who needs to hit his spots perfectly? CC Sabathia. Granted, CC has a large track record of MLB success but he now has the same 88-90 mph fastball as Nuno. If we expect CC to be able to pitch effectively with that kind of FB velocity, why not Vidal? I know one guy is a rookie with a very small sample of appearances and the other is a former All-Star and staff ace, but I’m saying if CC can be effective with a meh fastball than I’d give Nuno that same chance.

    • mitch

      Comparing him to CC is unfair, but I agree with your point. A veteran lefty who reinvents himself with diminished stuff is a “crafty lefty”. An unproven kid like Nuno with a similar repertoire in considered a guy without stuff good enough to succeed in the majors.

    • Preston

      Velocity is one small part of a larger picture. CC has an elite change and great breaking pitches. Nuno’s secondary pitches are considered marginal. Also when you’re 6’7″ you’re throwing down hill which gives you a more advantageous angle. Not to mention that he has a career’s worth of experience in the MLB to go off and Nuno doesn’t. The amount of 33 yo pitchers who survived on diminished stuff, is bigger than 25 yo pitchers who break in with it.

      • Long-Past-His-Day-Rod

        I attempted to caveat my response by saying “one guy is a rookie with a very small sample of appearances and the other is a former All-Star and staff ace.” I know it’s not a completely fair comparison.

        I don’t put much stock in the angle change as a result of CC’s height. You may disagree, and it may vary hitter to hitter, but I don’t think it’s that big of a difference to major league batters. I agree that CC’s slider is excellent, but I don’t consider his change “elite” anymore. There’s just not that significant a difference between the FB and change velocity anymore, although it’s still a good pitch. Nuno’s curve looked pretty damn good to me the other day, although it was only one day.

        In the end, I just was making the point that they’re two leftys who need to rely on control, mixing pitches, and changing speeds. One had previous success as a power pitcher, the other is an unproven rookie. I hope they both can figure out how to have sustained success!

        • Preston

          I have no idea how being taller effects your pitching. But I’ve heard a lot of batters say it does and scouts tend to gravitate towards the bigger guys.

          • mitch

            A taller pitcher throws from a different plane which make the pitch a little harder to follow. Their release point is also typically closer to the batter.

          • Masahiro Dinero

            By having a longer stride and extension, the pitcher effectively shortens the distance to home plate, making a pitch appear to be faster than the radar gun registers.

            It takes a 93 mph pitch (136.4 fps) 0.40 s to travel from the average release distance of 5 ft 10 inches to home plate which has an “effective velocity” of ~102 mph

            It takes a 93 mph pitch (136.4 fps) 0.39s to reach home plate when released 7 feet in front of the rubber (where D-Rob releases from) which has an “effective velocity” of ~105 mph

            That is an effective gain of 2 mph by striding longer rather than throwing harder.

            So a taller pitcher, with longer arms, who can release the ball closer to home plate has higher effective velocity than an equally hard throwing pitcher that is shorter/releases the ball closer to the rubber.

            ……………………………………………..

            “Why does David Robertson’s fastball appear to have mysterious “hop” to it? Why is Justin Verlander’s curve ball so hard to hit? And why are even the most accurate radar guns fooling scouts and they don’t even know it?

            Take, for instance, Robertson, the 5-foot-11 set-up reliever for the Yankees with that “lively” fastball. Robertson does not have exceptional size or velocity, but he ranks fourth among all active pitchers with at least 100 innings in strikeout rate (11.7 per nine innings, better than every pitcher except Carlos Marmol, Jonathan Broxton and Francisco Rodriguez, all of whom are well-paid closers.)

            Why is Robertson so difficult to hit? According to Trackman’s measurements taken in one American League park last season, Robertson, with his exceptionally long stride and reach, released his fastball seven feet from in front of the pitching rubber — the largest average extension Trackman measured in that park. The average MLB fastball extension was five feet, 10 inches.”

            Imagine if Robertson moves the pitching rubber 14 inches closer to home plate every time he pitches. That’s the kind of advantage he gains over the average pitcher by releasing his fastball with so much extension. The radar gun (and Trackman) clocks Robertson’s fastball at an average of 93 mph. But because Robertson shortens the distance between his release point and home plate, his “effective velocity” is 95 mph. It looks like 93 but gets on a hitter like 95 — thus the illusion of “hop.”

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          Amen on your last sentence.

  • LarryM Fl

    Its about 25 million dollar difference in salary at this point in their careers. Point well taken.

  • willie w

    I think its great he is getting a shot like this

    I hope I can catch one of his games on network TV (I don’t live in the NY area)

  • jsbrendog

    has any other team had the success scouting and signing from independent leagues as the yankees? it is pretty impressive.

  • Dave Guarnieri

    I don’t think anyone has said it……”Crafty”. And he doesn’t screw around on the mound, gets the sign and pitches. As long as he is hitting his spots, I believe he can win 10-12 games if he stays in the rotation.

    Please don’t mention Sergio Mitre—Girardi loves him and he outright BLOWS.

    • TWTR

      Why is it always “crafty lefty” while there are apparently no “crafty righties”?

      • Jorge Steinbrenner

        “Crafy righties” are more often known as “shitty righties.” :)

        • TWTR

          Yeah.

  • Darren

    It goes to show you that sometimes it’s better to lose out on a MLB starting spot in spring training if it means you’re first up in case of injury.

  • Brett is Bubbas Son

    Aaron Small says good luck kid…

  • Vidal Nuno Bettencourt

    I’m very happy to be getting this shot, guys. More than words can ever really say.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      There’s a hole in my heart that can only be filled by Nuno.

  • W.B. Mason Williams

    Give credit where it’s due, the only reason the guy is here is because he’s mastered each minor league level he’s pitched at.

    Obviously he doesn’t have the stuff to be an ace, but the guy can get people out and not give up runs. For all the “upside” Phelps and Warren have shown as back-end starters, every time you’d want to see results from Vidal DoTF, he’s delivered, and better ones than either of those two guys.