Yankees place Eduardo Nunez on the DL, call up Alberto Gonzalez

The Yankees have placed Eduardo Nunez on the 15-day DL due to his left ribcage issue, the team announced. Infielder Alberto Gonzalez will be recalled from Triple-A to take his roster spot. Mark Teixeira has been transferred to the 60-day DL to clear a 40-man roster spot.

Nunez, 25, has not played since leaving last Sunday’s game with soreness. The Yankees have played without a backup infielder for six games since then, but that couldn’t go on any longer. Nunez has hit a weak .200/.290/.275 (56 wRC+) in 95 plate appearances as the starting shortstop during Derek Jeter‘s absence. The 30-year-old Gonzalez was acquired from the Cubs in a minor trade a few days ago. The 33-year-old Teixeira (wrist) has just started taking full batting practice and is weeks away from a return.

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Update: Eduardo Nunez day-to-day with left ribcage irritation

4:34pm: The MRI came back negative and Nunez is day-to-day with what they’re calling “irritation.” Joe Girardi said he might not be ready in time to play on Tuesday, which is a problem because that means they’ll be short a position player in an NL park.

3:16pm: Nunez left the game with tightness in his left ribcage, the team announced. He will have an MRI.

2:41pm: Eduardo Nunez was removed from today’s game for an unknown reason in the fifth inning. He was on deck when the bottom of the fourth inning ended, and the cameras showed him standing in the on-deck circle and chatting with Joe Girardi. Chris Nelson took over at third and Jayson Nix shifted over to short. Stay tuned for updates.

Nunez improves in the field, now it’s time to hit

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

This season is the opportunity of  a lifetime for Eduardo Nunez. The 25-year-old is getting a chance to play shortstop on an everyday basis thanks to Derek Jeter‘s ankle surgery and subsequent setback, and he’s going to continue to play the position regularly because the Cap’n isn’t due to return until after the All-Star break. It sure doesn’t seem like there is a trade in the works to acquire another shortstop either.

The biggest question about Nunez coming into the year was his defense, especially his throwing. His throws were strong but far too often very wild, so much so that the Yankees had to send him to Triple-A last May to sort things out. That demotion may have saved the team a couple hundred grand next year, but that’s besides the point. The club penciled Nunez in as the everyday shortstop during Jeter’s absence this year and that was a very, very risky proposition.

To date, Eduardo’s defense has mostly been a non-issue. He’s committed three errors in 22 games and 178 innings at shortstop, and only one of the three was a throwing error. That came over the weekend when a throw pulled first baseman Lyle Overbay off the bag just a bit. Nunez worked with first base coach/infield instructor Mick Kelleher to shorten his throwing motion in camp and the results have been overwhelmingly positive so far. I think we all still get nervous when a ball is hit his way, but give Eduardo credit. He worked hard and has greatly improved his defense, particularly his throws.

Of course, defense is only half the battle. Maybe less depending on your point of view. Offensive expectations certainly weren’t high coming into 2013, but Nunez hasn’t hit a lick in the early going. He comes into today riding an ugly 4-for-36 (.111) streak, which has dropped his overall season batting line to .169/.273/.185 (32 wRC+) in 79 plate appearances. No, it’s not a huge sample nor definitive evidence of how he will hit going forward, but Nunez has been awful at the plate even considering the low offensive standard for the position (87 wRC+ league average at shortstop). There’s no argument to be made otherwise.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Because he doesn’t offer much power (career .100 ISO) or much patience (career 6.7 BB%), Nunez’s entire offensive game is built around contact and speed. He’s a (very) poor man’s Ichiro Suzuki, someone who just puts the ball in play, runs, and hopes for the best. While hitting .272/.318/.384 (88 wRC+) in 491 plate appearances from 2010-2012, Nunez posted a 10.4% strikeout rate and an 88.2% contact rate. Those are both far better than average. So far this year he’s sitting on a 17.3% strikeout rate and an 83.3% contact rate, which are still better than the league average. Just a touch better though. When it comes to pitches in the strike zone, Nunez is making contact on 88.0% of his swings in 2013 compared to 92.5% from 2010-2012.

Contact and swing rates — his swing rates on pitches both in and out of the zone haven’t changed much this year — stabilize relatively quickly, so this isn’t necessarily something that will simply revert back to his career averages over time. Nunez is hitting way more fly balls (42.6% in 2013, 34.5% from 2010-2012) and fewer ground balls (40.7%, 47.4%) this year, which is the exact opposite of what you want to see from a speed player. Fly balls turn into outs more easily than grounders, plus they completely eliminate the speed aspect. There’s no pressure on the infielders to make a play quickly, stuff like that. Yes, his .204 BABIP this year is way low for any player, especially one who came into the year with a .291 career mark, but the reduced contact and ground balls rates indicate the problem is something more than dumb luck.

Hitting coach Kevin Long has reportedly worked with Nunez on his balance at the plate recently, specifically by widening his base and eliminating some of his stride. It goes without saying that balance is important, especially for a contact guy who needs to be short to the ball. Eduardo should see his numbers improve in part due to simple BABIP correction, but that alone won’t turn him into the average or even slightly-below-average hitter the Yankees need him to be. Maybe Nunez is being exposed with regular playing time or maybe he’s just in an early-season funk, but his production has been a drain on the offense from the bottom of the lineup. If he doesn’t show improvement in the coming weeks, the Yankees are going to have to consider finding a replacement.

Eduardo Nunez expected to fall just short of projected Super Two cutoff

Ryan Galla at CAA Sports currently projects the 2014 Super Two cutoff at two years and 119 days of service time, which is typically written as 2.119. The Super Two cutoff dropped with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, so more players will qualify. Super Two players get four years of arbitration-eligibility rather than the usual three. (h/t MLBTR)

According to the service time info at Cot’s, Eduardo Nunez is expected to finish the season at 2.117 if he doesn’t get optioned to the minors at some point, so only two days short of the projected cutoff. Even though he’s been a bench player for most of his big league career, the difference between qualifying and not qualifying as a Super Two is a couple hundred grand in salary next year. It’s not insignificant. The projected Super Two cutoff is not final and can change over the next few months depending on roster movement around the league.

Yankees will stick with internal options following Jeter setback

Via Bryan Hoch: Brian Cashman confirmed the Yankees will stick with their internal options on the infield in the wake of Derek Jeter‘s setback. “We’re going to stay as we are,” said the GM. “Those guys have done a nice job. They’ve earned the right, and regardless, this time of year is certainly going to be a factor in anything that happens.”

Nunez, 25, is hitting just .184/.267/.211 (34 wRC+) in the early going this year while the 30-year-old Nix is at .172/.219/.276 (30 wRC+). That’s as bad as it gets right there. Nunez’s throwing has been much, much better these first few weeks, but that only goes so far. Teams usually aren’t looking to sell off pieces at this time of year anyway, so the Yankees are stuck with these two for the time being. Hopefully one of ‘em starts hitting.

Update: Nunez day-to-day with right wrist contusion

8:27pm: Nunez has a right wrist contusions and is day-to-day, the team announced. X-rays were negative.

7:49pm: Eduardo Nunez left tonight’s game following a hit-by-pitch. Replays showed it got him in the left right wrist. He remained in the game to run the bases but was removed after being unable to throw a ball between innings. Poor guy finally gets a chance to play everyday and he’s getting hit by pitches left and right. Stay tuned for updates.

Update: Nunez day-to-day with bruised biceps after hit-by-pitch

3:24pm: Nunez is day-to-day with a bruised right biceps, the Yankees announced. X-rays were negative. Considering how much pain he was in, that’s not bad at all. Exhale.

2:25pm: Eduardo Nunez left this afternoon’s game after being hit by a pitch in what looked like the right arm/chest. It hit him right by the armpit, it seemed. Nunez was in a lot of pain and had to be helped off the field. Stay tuned for any updates.