The idea that the futile Twins must have a representative on the American League All-Star team has been greeted with some derision in the unkind world of social media.
The All-Star rosters have been expanded to the point that adding a player from all teams isn’t quite the burden that once was the case. And even if that requirement grates on you, the Twins have been in a more difficult situation in the past in sending a player worthy of having “All-Star” on his résumé than they are at the moment.
Right now, the identity of the Twins’ All-Star is an uncontested layup:
Amidst the gloom, Nunez has been the most consistent hitter available to Paul Molitor. It did take a while for the manager to buy in to that notion.
Nunez started one of the Twins’ first nine games. It would be foolish to offer that as a reason the Twins started 0-9.
What it does explain is Molitor’s willingness to go away from a theory that Nunez was more valuable being used as a spare infielder to play three times a week than on a regular basis.
The disastrous start and injuries to shortstop Eduardo Escobar and third baseman Trevor Plouffe put Nunez in the lineup on a regular basis. He has started 38 of the 44 games since opening the season as mostly a spectator.
He has played enough to reach the required plate appearances to qualify among the American League batting leaders. Entering Thursday’s game at Target Field, Nunez was sixth in the AL at .329.
Molitor went with Brian Dozier as his leadoff hitter for most of his first season as manager in 2015. When Dozier went cool after the All-Star Game, it became an issue.
When asked about his concerns in spring training, finding a leadoff hitter was among those Molitor would mention. The concerns became much greater once this season started, of course, but the need for a leadoff hitter still was there.
Molitor even gave into the mouth-breathing, analytical nut cases and batted Joe Mauer at the top for eight games.
On May 24, Molitor sat the slump-ridden Dozier and put Nunez at second base and the top of the order. Dozier returned to the lineup after a couple of days, but Nunez has moved around and stayed at the top of the order.
On Thursday, Nunez was leading off for the 10th consecutive game. He started what would become a 6-4 victory for the Twins with a drive to deep right off Tampa Bay’s Matt Moore. There was a stream of sunlight interrupting the shadows in front of the Rays’ Brandon Guyer.
You could see Guyer was in trouble as he backed up. He reached high and the ball ricocheted off his glove. Nunez circled the bases and was credited with an inside-the-park home run.
“That’s a play I have to make,” Guyer said. “It hit my glove. There was a little glare at the end … it killed me, for the team and for Matt.”
Fly balls are routinely called hits when an outfielder loses a ball in the sun. Guyer clearly was affected by that glare of sun. I’m on board with the home-run call … a well-hit ball and the first inside-the-park home run for the home team at Target Field.
It was instructive to again see the wheels that Nunez — 29 later this month and in his 13th professional season — carries on the bases. He had his traditional loss of helmet as he started to make the turn at second base.
Nunez was well short of third when third base coach Gene Glynn started giving the wheel to head for home. Glynn might as well, because Eduardo was flying and there’s no way he was going to pass on the chance for the inside-the-parker.
First ever? “Yes,” Nunez said.
Not even the minors? “No.”
Not in your life? “No.”
No, as in yes, Nunez’s first inside-the-parker.
Nunez later had a single. He’s now batting .331. His career high for big-league at-bats was 309 with the Yankees in 2011, and he had 304 two years later. He now has 169 at-bats for the Twins — third on the team — with two-thirds of the season remaining.
Nunez is an adventure in the field … always has been, always will be.
He also can hit and he can run, particularly when helmet-free. If Eduardo keeps leading off and getting seven or eight hits a week, he will make a fine All-Star for the Twins.
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. firstname.lastname@example.org