Other Yankees, high on Eduardo Nuñez, try to lift his spirits

Eduardo Nunez smiles as he is greeted in

Eduardo Nunez smiles as he is greeted in the Yankee dugout after hitting a solo home run during the second inning. (Sept. 15, 2012) (Credit: David Pokress)

Several hours before Saturday afternoon's first pitch, third-base coach Rob Thomson sat talking quietly with Eduardo Nuñez. He soon was joined by manager Joe Girardi.

A night earlier, Nuñez -- who, with Derek Jeter serving as the DH because of an ankle injury, started at shortstop -- misplayed Evan Longoria's grounder with two outs in the ninth inning and allowed an insurance run to score in the Rays' 6-4 win.

But Nuñez got the start again Saturday, and with Girardi saying that Tuesday is "the earliest'' Jeter will return to the field, the manager felt the need to keep the young infielder's spirits up.

As did Nuñez's teammates.

"I said, 'You made a lot of good plays. You can't focus on the one that you didn't make,' '' Girardi said. " 'Learn from it and move on. Turn the page.' ''

Jeter delivered a similar message Friday to a player whose fielding issues earlier in the year prompted his demotion to Triple-A so he could concentrate on one position -- shortstop.

"Jeter told me one thing; he asked me, 'Is that the first error you're going to make?' No,'' said Nuñez, who had made several strong throws from deep in the hole earlier in the game that were overshadowed by the error. "He said, 'Just play the game and do your thing.' ''

A big part of that is what Nuñez can do with the bat, the reason the Yankees have not given up on him. He cleanly fielded the two grounders hit his way Saturday but made a bigger impact at the plate, following Curtis Granderson's two-run homer with his own home run off James Shields in the second inning to give Ivan Nova a 3-0 lead. The day before, Nuñez delivered a solid hit off Rays ace David Price.

"Nuñez is a difference- maker,'' said Alex Rodriguez, who had two hits, including an RBI single. "He's one of the finest offensive players on this team. And the one thing about Nuñez that's very special is that he can hit really, really good pitching, and that's rare. He's a big asset for us. He has the potential to kick-start our offense.''

A-Rod added he was impressed that Nuñez came back a day after committing the critical error and produced.

"I was excited he was back in the lineup,'' Rodriguez said. "Enormous ability, a very high ceiling for us. You can see the way he handles those key at-bats. He can turn around a 100- mph fastball and hits off-speed very well. That's a rare combination. He showed a lot the way he played today.''

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