David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
There were two plays Sunday that showed why Joe Girardi keeps using Eduardo Nuñez at shortstop, despite his volatility at one of the most important defensive positions.
Both blew up in Nuñez's face, and the second ultimately led to the winning run in the Yankees' 5-4 loss to the Athletics. After two more errors by Nuñez -- one proved to be harmless -- that should be reason enough for Girardi to reconsider his strategy of using him to spell Derek Jeter on a regular basis.
"Those are decisions that we have to make, but I like what the kid does," Girardi said. "He gives us some excitement out there. We'll decide as we move forward, and hopefully as Jeter's foot continues to heal, he can get out there more, too."
Excitement is one way to put it. As for what Nuñez does, well, there needs to be a closer examination of the cost-benefit analysis of balancing his athletic talents against the more stable, yet perhaps more ordinary influence of Jayson Nix at short.
Look at the weekend. The Yankees won a series against the A's by a total of three runs. Two of the games needed extra innings. Going back further, 11 of their last 12 games were decided by one or two runs.
The point being is that errors lose games, and Nuñez -- despite his obvious talents -- is error-prone.
In the second inning, Nuñez made a great backhanded grab of Josh Donaldson's grounder and fired a long throw that beat him by a solid half-step. But first-base umpire Larry Vanover ruled Donaldson safe, and one out later, Cliff Pennington hit a two-run homer. That wasn't Nuñez's fault. He had a great play ruined by an umpire's call.
But in the sixth, with the score tied at 4, the ball found Nuñez again. He is the only shortstop on the Yankees' roster, including the hobbled Jeter, who could have snared Donaldson's sharply hit bouncer up the middle. What followed that impressive grab, however, turned out to be calamitous.
Nuñez attempted to execute a spin-and-throw move, but the ball came out of his hand as if he were a dizzy child on a merry-go-round. It sailed far wide of Nick Swisher, who could only watch as it sailed into the photographers' well, and Donaldson was awarded second base. One out later, Pennington did the damage again, with a run-scoring single that snaked through the left side.
That must have been difficult for Girardi to watch. And it's not as if Nuñez, who consistently bats ninth, has been making up the difference at the plate. He's hitting .207 (6-for-29) with six strikeouts since his return to the majors Sept. 1.
Nuñez went 0-for-4 Sunday, and three times failed with a runner in scoring position. At this time of year, that could tilt Girardi back toward Nix, especially as the manager remains very concerned about limiting Jeter's innings in the field. It still feels like too big a risk to use him out there daily.
"I think it's more that you worry about the more he's on [the ankle], the better chance he has of reinjuring it or irritating it more than it already is," Girardi said. "I try to tell him when he's running the bases, be smart, manage that. I think it's the offensive part more than the defensive part, because you can't just say, 'I'm not going to go after this ball as hard.' So you worry about that."
Effort is not the problem with Nuñez, who has the speed to corral most balls his way and the cannon arm to finish the job. With all those moving parts, however, things can get messy. And often do.
"It happens," Nuñez said. "Tomorrow is a different day."
He's resilient, too. But unlike Nuñez, the Yankees are in no position now to shrug off those mistakes. That's for spring training, not September.