It didn't matter that the Yankees wound up losing 2-1 because what they gained was yet another legitimate contender for the final spot in their starting rotation. And he certainly became a favorite among the beat crew, because the game was played in a tidy 2:25, in large part thanks to his get-it-and-throw-it-back style of pitching.
"Nuno was terrific," said Rob Thomson, who is babysitting the Yankees who didn't go to Panama. "That's what he does. He works fast, throws strikes, changes speed behind in the count, throws all his pitches for strikes. He's a valuable guy because he can pick up a lot of innings out of the bullpen, he can start, and he can get lefties out. So he’s a versatile guy."
Nuno, who relies on his offspeed repertoire while mixing in an occasional fastball, kept the Orioles off-balance during his four-inning stint, but did surprise the last hitter he faced, ex-Yankee Steve Pearce, with a high fastball that Pearce swung through for strike three.
"I'm not a flamethrower," Nuno said. "I'm a guy that mixes in the breaking balls and cutter and changeup. That's how I got them off-balance. [The pitch to Pearce] was up in the zone and I've seen how his swing was. It worked out perfect."
Nuno's four scoreless innings dropped his spring ERA to 1.50, with just one earned run allowed in six inning over two starts. Thomson thought Nuno's brisk pace worked to the advantage of everyone. "When you got a guy who works fast and throws strikes and puts the ball in play, your defense is always on its toes," he said. "You get a guy who’s walking around the mound all the time, taking a lot of time, ball one, ball two, everybody kinda gets on their heels and stiffens up. It always seems like when a guy’s working fast the defense always plays better."
The Yankee defense played well today. Kelly Johnson, who has struggled learning third base, handled three tough chances flawlessly; Brian Roberts made a couple of good plays over the middle and two young outfielders, Mason Williams and Ramon Flores, flagged down liners that appeared headed for gaps. Flores also had a double and a single. The Yankees lone run came on a home run by Francisco Arcia in the sixth.
"It was a really good day," Thomson said. "We saw some good things."
Nuno, a laid-back type, said he did not feel any extra pressure from knowing he had to pitch well to remain in contention for the final rotation spot. "It motivates," he said. "Pretty much you're just having a good time being around the guys, and whatever happens happens. Let the front office decide who's going to do what and where."
Short day: Jacoby Ellsbury stretched and took fielding practice back at Tampa, but left the field at the start of batting practice with coach Lee Mazzilli and did not return. Thomson said he had not heard that anything was wrong with Ellsbury -- "I'm sure I would have been told," he said -- and expects Ellsbury to be in his starting lineup for Sunday's home game against the Braves.
Nunie, Tex A-OK:Eduardo Nunez, who was leg-whipped in the thigh by Chris Colabello of the Twins in Friday's game, took batting practice and grounders and is expected to be fine for Sunday; so, too, is Mark Teixeira, who followed his regular BP session this morning with some extra work off the tee, indicating his surgically-repaired wrist is feeling good.