Commentary

Nunez turns up heat on shortstop debate

The Yankees youngster has been on fire, but what happens when The Captain returns?

Updated: July 2, 2011, 10:26 PM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- On the brink of DJ3K, suddenly an up-and-coming, athletic Steve Young has emerged to seize the throne of an aging Joe Montana.

In the past two days, 24-year-old Eduardo Nunez has put on a show, displaying a raw electric swing that may ignite a shortstop debate that could rival the Young-Montana saga of two decades ago.

[+] EnlargeEduardo Nunez
Debby Wong/US PresswireNunez may have an inconsistent glove, but his talent at the plate is unquestionable.

In a 24-hour span, Nunez seemingly hit more balls hard than the 37-year-old Derek Jeter has all season. Nunez has gone 7-for-8 the past two days, with three doubles and a mammoth homer, and the New York Yankees have won seven straight.

This recent run has created an awkward feeling at the steps of history, as Jeter will return from the DL next week on the verge of 3,000 hits and with the mortality of his position as the Yankees' starting shortstop more apparent than ever.

After the Yankees' 5-2 victory over the New York Mets Saturday, Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that Nunez has earned extra at-bats, maybe even more from the shortstop position. Nunez grew up idolizing Jeter, now he is putting The Captain's deteriorating skills under a hotter spotlight.

With Jeter out and Nunez in, the Yankees are 14-3. Jeter has nine doubles, a triple and two homers this season, while Nunez has seven doubles, a triple and three homers. The difference: Jeter has had 293 plate appearances, Nunez just 115.

In the field, however, Nunez has been the worst defender on the team with 10 errors. Jeter has four.

With 3,000 on the horizon, Girardi will hold off on making any bold moves. But it seems like even Girardi senses that Nunez is at the beginning as Jeter is at the end -- despite two more years and an option on his contract.

A reporter asked Girardi if the Yankees were better with Nunez or Jeter at short. Girardi kick-started his answers with one of his little laughs and then made like Fred Astaire.

"Nooney has played well," Girardi said. "Derek is our shortstop. He has been the shortstop for a long time and he has been a great player -- and he is still a great player. And we are looking forward to getting him back. My hope is that these next two days go well and we get him back and get him rolling, like he can. Derek is the guy who has always been there for us and will continue to be there for us."

Girardi really didn't answer the reporter's question, but he would go on to say he could possibly play Nunez an extra day at shortstop per week. Girardi said he could even rest Robbie Cano here and there to get Nunez's bat in the lineup more.

But really, Nunez should play more at short. It is not time to fully unseat Jeter. Nunez's sample size is too small, his glove too inconsistent, to say he is ready for that. Yet more time for Nunez would be good for The Captain.

Jeter is better with rest. This season, in the 12 games he has played following a day off, Jeter is hitting .313. In his other 50 games, he is just a .248 hitter.

In the first three innings of games this year, Jeter is a .308 batter. From innings four through six, he is at .247. In the seventh or later, he is at just .207. Overall, Jeter has looked old and tired on his way to .260.

Nunez is just knocking rockets all over the park. In fact, the only out he made Saturday was a line drive that the Mets' Justin Turner made a spectacular diving catch on in the sixth.

"[Turner] told me, 'You can't be 7-for-7,'" Nunez said. "He is my friend. We played together [in the minors.]"

In his last at-bat, Nunez launched a solo shot out of Citi Field. It had the kind of length that, these days, would take Jeter two swings to get that far. In fact, Nunez has actually looked more like a healthy Jose Reyes than anyone else.

"Nunez is unbelievable," said Alex Rodriguez, who recently made headlines for his lofty praise of Reyes. "He can easily be in eighth grade. I think all the Reyes talk I had, maybe he took it a little personal. He's been incredible."

Last Tuesday, Girardi was first asked if the Yankees are appreciably better with Nunez than Jeter. Girardi said he didn't want to open that can of worms.

That can is now open.

Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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