There was a point during spring training when it seemed like Rio Ruiz would take Renato Nunez’s spot on the Orioles’ roster. It seemed likely considering how the new coaching staff was emphasizing defense. But the Mark Trumbo injury made that an easier decision, allowing the club to keep both Ruiz and Nunez while using the latter almost exclusively as a designated hitter.
So far this season, Nunez has gotten two starts in the field — both coming at first base. He did also mke one appearance in left field, late in the blowout loss in game two of the Minnesota doubleheader. During that game, he misplayed a ball that got over his head for extra bases.
Additionally, the Orioles haven’t let Nunez anywhere near third base this year. Last season, Buck started Nunez at third in 56 games and none at DH (although he made one appearance at DH). But new manager Brandon Hyde and GM Mike Elias are handling things differently, preferring to let Nunez’s bat do the talking for him exclusively.
Overshadowed by Trey Mancini’s magnificent April, Renato Nunez is still having quite the start to 2019 himself. After a 2-for-4 night in the series finale against the White Sox yesterday, Nunez’s batting line stands at .301/.356/.538 coming into the off day.
Bear in mind, Nunez’s career AVG and OBP in eight minor league seasons were .265 and .321, respectively. So he’s surely on a hot streak right now, making it interesting to see if he can keep it up and show permanent next-level growth as a player.
Early in the season, Mancini and Nunez are tied for the team lead in home runs with six apiece, while Nunez and Dwight Smith Jr. are tied for the team lead in RBI (18). Nunez is also second on the club — behind only Mancini — in several other major offensive categories, including batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and on-base plus slugging percentage.
All this from a guy who seemed like a fringe player at points in the spring.
Originally signed by the Athletics in 2010, the right-handed hitter made his major league debut in a September 2016 call-up at age 20. He only got 15 at-bats to close out that year, hitting .133/.133/.133. He was a September call-up for the A’s again the following year, and again he earned 15 at-bats, that time slashing .200/.250/.400, which included his first career home run. Those brief chances were the only two he would get in Oakland.
Nunez found himself in Texas with the Rangers after being placed on waivers by the Athletics early last season on April 15. He went onto the Rangers’ big league roster the following day but only hit .167/.244/.278 in 36 at-bats there. About a month later, on May 13, Nunez was on waivers again. That was when former O’s GM Dan Duquette scooped him up.
The DH/1B is only 25 years old. Is it too far-fetched to think Nunez has a shot to stick around for awhile? A running theme this year with the Orioles relates to who will step up and reveal themselves worthy of being part of the future. The longer that Nunez hits like he is currently, the more he thrusts himself into the long-term equation.
Concurrently, in a league where managers are trending toward positional flexibility and rotating players at designated hitter, the no-glove all-bat DH is starting to become more scarce. So projecting a player like Nunez too far into the future might not be as easy as it once was.
While Nunez’s third base experiment seems to be over — at least for now — maybe the right-handed hitter will see more time at first base. He even flashed the leather there last night against the White Sox, diving to snare a sharp ground ball to his left and then beating the runner to the bag for the out.
But if you really want to try to look into the future and Mancini sticks around for awhile instead of being traded to the highest bidder, he seems to have dibs on first base whenever Chris Davis vacates it. That would still leave Nunez as a DH.
It is still so early in the season, but with the state of the Orioles, fans are left to search high and low for any bright spots. The jury is still out on whether Nunez is a long-term answer for the O’s, but at the very least, he makes the offense more interesting on nights he is in the lineup.