Nunez, Kuroda lead Yanks to win in pitching duel

Hiroki Kuroda tagged out Nick Markakis at the plate in the seventh to preserve the lead.

During spring training, nobody hit the ball to Eduardo Nunez when he manned the outfield.

So, of course, the first ball of the game found him in left field.

Nunez handled that one and made four other putouts during his first career start as a left fielder in last night’s 2-1 win over the Orioles.

“It was going to be a long night,” Nunez said of recording the first putout. “Two hard line drives, I said ‘wow it was going to be a long night for me tonight.’

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“I said ‘phew,’ yeah. I don’t have nerves. I don’t want to rush anything, make a big mistake and try to dive or something.”

Nunez was put in left field to avoid Curtis Granderson being flanked by Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez while Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher recover from short-term injuries. Before last night, he had played just 18 innings and recorded four putouts.

Only one of those innings was in left field and that was the final inning against Chicago on April 25, 2011.

Nunez looked like a novice when he made two of the first three putouts in the opening inning, but managed to get it done. He took a few steps in to catch Nolan Reimold’s sinking liner and then slid on his knees to nab Nick Markakis’s liner.

In the second, he ran back to the warning track and tracked down Chris Davis’s sacrifice fly that scored Matt Wieters. Coincidentally, Wieters reached when Ibanez mistimed his leap at the warning track in right field.

Nunez had more of an adventurous time getting to Robert Andino’s fly ball. He made the catch practically sitting down, prompting a few smiles and chuckles in the Yankee dugout.

“That’s Nunee,” Jones said. “He’s a funny guy. Everything he does is funny. He talks funny. He runs funny. He catches the ball funny. So everything he does is funny. That’s why everybody is laughing.”

“It didn’t look nice, but he made the plays,” Russell Martin said. “He’s an athlete. He’s got that speed and combine that with reads off the bat, he’s able to move around.”

In the fifth, he made a seamless catch on Wieters’s flyball, which was the last ball hit in his direction.

“So much for not getting any balls. He was tested with some tough plays and did an outstanding job,” manager Joe Girardi said.  “The second one where he went to his knees — that ball knuckled, that ball was hit right on the screws. He had one easy play and he did an outstanding job.”

“He did great,” Jones added. “He got the job done. He made the plays. He caught all the balls that went his way. The only way he’s going to get better is if the team gives him the trust to keep going out there and playing the position.”

Nunez was not the only preventing hits for Hiroki Kuroda, who made a second straight strong start. Kuroda allowed one run and four hits in seven innings, getting nice plays from Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter along the way while making one of his own in the seventh.

Kuroda pitched efficiently with his slider, sinker and splitter, reaching 80 pitches with one out in the seventh.

Kuroda also made the most crucial defensive play of the night. He bounced a splitter that Martin could not handle. The ball went just past the third-base foul line, but Kuroda hustled to the plate and applied the tag on Markakis for the final out of the seventh.

“If I was a bit further, it would have been tougher,” Martin said. “I didn’t really have time to set myself up to throw the ball overhand. I kind of optioned it. I never was a quarterback, so that’s a first for me.

“But it really was Hiro getting a good position and getting it quick. He gave me a good target and I just threw it.”

The effective defense came on a night when the Yankees mustered little against the previously unbeaten Jason Hammel. They scored their lone runs on Eric Chavez’s home run with one out in the third that landed near the back of the Yankees bullpen.

Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.


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