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Nuno's performance Vidal to his future

4/20/2014

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Vidal Nuno has been in this position before -- being asked by the New York Yankees to take the baseball and give them as many quality major league innings as his 5-foot-10, 195-pound body could give them with no promise of anything in return -- and he has nearly always kept his end of the bargain.

So, too, have the Yankees kept theirs. They've promised him nothing, and so far, given him nothing.

But this time around, it could be different. This time, for a change, the Yankees might actually need Vidal Nuno more than he needs them. With Ivan Nova on the disabled list and possibly facing Tommy John surgery because of a partially torn UCL, there is a hole in the Yankees' starting rotation.

And right now, Vidal Nuno may be the only man on their roster capable of filling it. David Phelps and Adam Warren, the other two also-rans in the spring training No. 5 starter competition ultimately won by Michael Pineda, seemed comfortably, or confoundedly, ensconced in short relief roles.

Nuno, on the other hand, has been mired in the purgatory of long relief/spot starting, a role that generally calls for one's services only in instances of dire need.

Such as today, when because of a rainout and makeup doubleheader earlier in the week, the Yankees found themselves short a starting pitcher.

Vidal Nuno, come on down.

Well, he did. And also, he stepped right up.

Despite his unimposing physique and underwhelming repertoire -- his fastball rarely hits 90 mph -- Nuno succeeded in taming the red-hot Rays, holding down an offense that had scored 27 runs in its previous 18 innings to nothing, nada, zilch, and just three hits over the first five innings on Sunday.

Because of the Yankees' lack of offense, and an unearned run scored off the bullpen after Nuno had left the game, he was deprived of a win. But he may have come away with something more important -- a sizable lead in what promises to be another competition to take Nova's place in the rotation.

“He was great," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He kept making some big pitches and that’s a big boost to be able to give us five innings like that and to be able to hold that team down, especially the way they were swinging. It’s a big start for him. Obviously we need to make some plans for Saturday, and we’ll do that tomorrow.”

Saturday is the next time Nova's spot in the rotation comes up, against the Los Angeles Angels at Yankee Stadium. And since of the pitchers in the bullpen only Nuno is stretched out to the point where he can throw 75 pitches -- he threw 69 today -- it's pretty safe bet that he will be making that start, too.

"This was just another outing, and another opportunity to go out there and prove that I could pitch, and I went out there and gave it my all," Nuno said. "Every day is an opportunity, just to show I can belong here and get people out."

Spoken like a man who has been conditioned not to expect too much, no matter how well he does.

Only this time, maybe Vidal Nuno can allow himself at least one more start, a perhaps a few more after that.

Question: Do you think Vidal Nuno should be given Nova's spot in the rotation?