Nunez Fills In Admirably For Yankees' Infield All-Stars





NEW YORK—Eduardo Nunez isn't the first homegrown Yankees infielder of recent memory to open eyes as a young player.

A decade ago, Alfonso Soriano hit 18 homers and stole 43 bases to finish third in American League rookie balloting.

Whereas Soriano supplanted fading veteran Chuck Knoblauch at second base, Nunez was asked to fill the enormous shoes of Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez in the same season.

"He did a very good job," manager Joe Girardi said of the 24-year-old native of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, who signed in 2004. "He was huge for us."

Nunez made 17 straight starts at shortstop from June 14-July 2 while Jeter spent time on the disabled list with a strained calf. He batted .339 (20-for-59) during Jeter's absence and the Yankees went 14-3.

Nunez shifted to third base on July 9 as Rodriguez had right knee surgery. During A-Rod's DL stint, Nunez made 23 starts at the hot corner as well as two at second and six at short. With their cleanup hitter out, the Yankees went 24-13.

"You look at him play and you can tell he isn't scared," C.C. Sabathia said.

"He is a young man who wants to play," Mariano Rivera said.

Though Nunez had committed a team-high 16 errors through Aug. 24, he also had batted .274/.320/.397 in 234 at-bats while showing strong contact skills (just 27 strikeouts) and speed (19 steals in 24 attempts).

Nunez's emergence isn't surprising longtime Yankees talent evaluator Gordon Blakeley, who saw the shortstop at an early age.

"I thought he could be an everyday big league shortstop and a good one," Blakeley said. "I thought he could hit .280 with 30-40 steals and hit 10-12 homers."

The challenge for the Yankees will be getting Nunez on the field next year to take advantage of his live bat and body.

Robinson Cano, Jeter and Rodriguez are entrenched around the infield, so Nunez's best chance for playing time may come as a super-utility player who also can play the outfield.

YANKEE DOODLES

• Lefthander Aaron Laffey's childhood dream of playing for the Yankees came true on Aug. 20, one day after New York claimed him on waivers from the Mariners. However, the Yankees designated him for assignment after one appearance (three innings of relief in a 9-4 loss) to make room for Rodriguez's return from the DL.

• Looking for lefty relief help, the Yankees also claimed Raul Valdes from the Cardinals and optioned him to Double-A Trenton.