The biggest strength of the New York Yankees has been their pitching. From top to bottom, starts and bullpen, the Yankees pitching staff is why the team currently resides in first place in the American League East. This has been accomplished in spite of the temporary loss of closer David Robertson, who returned this week, and now the season ending injury to starter Ivan Nova, who has been a dependable pitcher for New York since 2011. With Nova out, the Yankees have named Vidal Nuno their fifth starter going forward.
Arriving in the majors from AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, the 26-year-old Nuno made his first start this season on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Rays. Nuno was on the Yankees’ opening day roster before being sent down for a poor performance out of the bullpen. His re-debut was much more successful. Nuno took only 69 pitches to get through five innings, striking out six and allowing just five base runners. The left-handed Nuno brings a bit more balance to the Yankees rotation, which had featured four righties before his call-up.
After being a round-48 draft pick of the Cleveland Indians, Nuno was cut and began to pitch in the Frontier League, an independent professional league. Learning a change-up and developing his two-seam fastball, Nuno’s second tour in Minor League Baseball was much more successful. His ERA for his minor league career since signing with the Yankees is a dazzling 2.09. His scouting report is uninspiring, but one cannot argue with the results he has achieved.
A lack of pure physical talent is the biggest reason Nuno has not been given a bigger chance before. Throwing mostly in the upper 80’s, and topping out at 90 mph, Nuno does not have the stuff to overpower anyone. His off-speed offerings are good but not great. He effectively mixes his pitches, which include two and four-seam fastballs, a slider, curve, and cutter. His success comes in keeping the ball down in the zone, because he cannot consistently escape trouble on elevated pitches due to his lack of velocity.
On Sunday, he got away with a lot of hung pitches in the middle of the zone that will otherwise be hit consistently. In the minors, Nuno compiled an excellent strikeout-to-walk ratio, but his pitch style will not be conducive to the same sort of success in the majors. By necessity, he is going to have to stop simply putting the ball in the strike zone, and start locating on the edges of the plate. It may result in a few more walks, but it will allow him to avoid getting hit as hard. If he is able to do that he will be successful. If he does what he did against the Rays in his next start he will get throttled.
Nuno’s minor league success, and incredible rise to the majors after being out of baseball, is something to root for. He has absolutely earned a shot at the Yankees’ fifth starter job. There are no expectations for him to repeat his AA and AAA performance against major league hitting. If Nuno can be serviceable and consistent, the Yankees will be enamored. Going through batting orders more than once, and seeing opponents more than once, will be key. Nuno takes the mound next against the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday.
Commentary by Brian Moore
Guardian Liberty Voice Sports Writer covering New York Baseball