NEW YORK -- Eduardo Nunez, who made two errors at third base in the first two innings of Thursday's game against the Rays, is about to become an every-day shortstop.
In the minor leagues.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi surprised reporters at his pregame interview Friday with the announcement that Nunez, who had been playing semi-regularly at several positions, had been demoted to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
The Yankees needed to clear a roster spot for Eric Chavez, who returned Friday after a stint on the 7-day disabled list after suffering a concussion May 3, but there seemed to be several candidates for demotion ahead of Nunez, who was hitting .294 and led the team in stolen bases.
But Girardi said the club felt Nunez would benefit from playing every day at shortstop, which the Yankees consider to be his "normal" position.
"We asked Nunie to do some things that you usually ask more of a veteran player to do," Girardi said.
"And for the best interests of him and us moving forward, we thought it was probably more important he goes down and plays shortstop six days a week and maybe second base a day a week."
In 20 games this season, Nunez had bounced from third base (eight games), shortstop (five), second base (one), left field (four) and right field (one). He was also the designated hitter in one game.
But Nunez, 24, proved to be defensively challenged at all of them. In 2011, he committed a team-high 20 errors in just 279 chances. This season, he was officially charged with four errors -- three at third base and one at shortstop. Last week, however, he had another removed from his record, a misplayed fly ball in left that led to two runs, when Joe Torre overruled the official scorer in his capacity as MLB's executive vice president for baseball operations.
Nunez was sent down less than a day after booting a ground ball in the first inning of Thursday night's 5-3 win against the Rays, and making a throwing error in the second, both of which led to runs. Despite having had two hits, a walk and two stolen bases, Nunez was pulled from the game after five innings and replaced by Jayson Nix, who now assumes Nunez's role as the backup shortstop and second baseman.
Girardi said the demotion was not directly connected to Nunez's mishaps Thursday.
"It's more about getting him back to playing every day," Girardi said. "When I look at Nunie's future, I don't see him as a utility guy. I see him as an every-day player. So we made this move. It's tough because he's a great kid with great work ethic that's willing to do anything for you that provides a lot of excitement, but for his development we thought it was more important to get him playing every day at short again."
Girardi has mentioned Nunez as the eventual replacement at shortstop for Derek Jeter, who will be 38 next month and has two more years left on his contract. But with injuries to left fielder Brett Gardner and right fielder Nick Swisher, and with Alex Rodriguez needing regular DH days, Nunez has been pressed into duty at nearly a half-dozen positions this season.
"It was very difficult for him, I would assume," Jeter said. "When you're younger you're used to playing every day. It's hard enough not to play every day but then to play sparingly at two, three, four, five different positions, that's tough to do."
Robinson Cano, one of Nunez's closest friends on the team who worked out with him in the Dominican Republic this winter, admitted he was "surprised" by the demotion.
But he also said he thought a return to the minor leagues might benefit Nunez in the long run.
"This is a business and whatever the team decides, we got to live with that," Cano said. "It all depends on how he takes it. I will tell him, keep your head up, take this as a positive thing, go down and work hard. And maybe we'll see him soon."
Asked what he thought Nunez needed to do to improve, Jeter said: "He needs to play. That's the thing. Everyone would love for him to be here, but he needs to play. That's the best thing for him."