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Nunez may be only all-star for the Twins

MINNEAPOLIS -- Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost hasn't called his old Milwaukee Brewers teammate this year to get his input on American League all-star selections that will be announced tonight.Twins manager Paul Molitor, however, knows what h...

Jul 4, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins shortstop Eduardo Nunez (9) prepares to throw the ball to first base to complete a double play during the first inning against the Oakland Athletics at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
Minnesota Twins shortstop Eduardo Nunez prepares to throw the ball to first base to complete a double play during the first inning against the Oakland Athletics Monday at Target Field. (Photo by Jeffrey Becker / USA TODAY Sports)

MINNEAPOLIS - Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost hasn’t called his old Milwaukee Brewers teammate this year to get his input on American League all-star selections that will be announced tonight.
Twins manager Paul Molitor, however, knows what he would tell his friend if he made a last-minute call. His nod would go to infielder Eduardo Nunez.
“I would recommend Nunez to him,” Molitor said before Monday’s 3-1 loss to the Oakland A’s. “Of all our players, position and pitchers, he’s had the best first half.”
Twins general manager Terry Ryan sees things the same way for a last-place team that will almost certainly merit just one selection for the first time since 2011-12 (Michael Cuddyer and Joe Mauer, respectively).
“From start to finish … Nunez has been our most consistent guy that’s put up the most consistent numbers,” Ryan said. “He’s been available every day, steals bases, plays short, plays third. He’s a leadoff guy that’s done a good job up there. He’s just been very consistent for us.”
Entering play on Independence Day, Nunez was sixth in AL batting at .319 and his 19 stolen bases were three behind Cleveland’s Rajai Davis, the league leader. Even after going 0 for 4, Nunez was hitting .315.
With a park-adjusted combined on-base/slugging percentage of .832, 19 percent above league average, Nunez led all Twins with more than 170 plate appearances. His four-hit game in Saturday’s 17-5 blasting of the Texas Rangers was his fourth this season and the sixth of a career that began with the New York Yankees in 2010.
“I don’t see how he can be denied,” Molitor said Sunday on his weekly radio show.
Monday, Molitor expounded on his reasoning after it was pointed out that Boston’s Brock Holt (recently activated after six weeks on the disabled list) went to last year’s All-Star Game in a utility role.
“I think the numbers support it: versatile, productive,” Molitor said. “I would imagine it’s how it all fits. I would think his versatility might be appealing in a game like that.”
Even with expanded rosters and fan voting for the final roster spot, positional need comes into play. Hot Junes from Brian Dozier and Kurt Suzuki have launched them into the conversation at second base and catcher, respectively.
Dozier, on the basis of much stronger baserunning, has surpassed Nunez for the team lead in wins above replacement as measured by FanGraphs.com. Dozier has 1.9 fWAR, comfortably ahead of Nunez (1.4) but just seventh among AL second sackers.
Suzuki, meanwhile, ranks only eighth among AL catchers in both fWAR (0.6) and weighted runs created plus (7 percent below league average).
Right-hander Ricky Nolasco, who took a 1-0 lead into the seventh inning but dropped to 3-7 when Coco Crisp hit a two-run single off rookie reliever Taylor Rogers, entered Monday’s start with a 1.4 fWAR, tops on a disappointing Twins pitching staff.
Nunez had a rare blip Monday when he threw off line trying get the lead runner at third after Danny Valencia’s leadoff double in the seventh. It took a replay review to overturn the initial out call, but the play proved costly.
“I think a good throw and he’s probably out by a fair margin,” Molitor said. “It’s not a throw you practice a lot. I just think he kind of let the ball get out there, made it a tougher play.”
Lefty reliever Fernando Abad had a 0.79 earned-run average through June 12, but a 10.13 ERA over his last six outings torpedoed his all-star chances.
“I think Nunez is in there,” Abad said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know what they’re thinking, but in my mind I think he’s in there.”
So, yes, everything keeps pointing to Nunez. Just don’t tell him that.
“I don’t want to put anything in my mind yet,” he said. “I have no control about that. The only control I have is to play well and do my thing and help the team to win.”
The winning part has been maddeningly elusive this year, but it’s hardly been Nunez’s fault.
Monday marked his 37th game at shortstop, his natural position. He also has played 30 games at third base in an injury-plagued first half for Trevor Plouffe, five more at second base and five at designated hitter.
Halfway through the schedule, Nunez has 27 multi-hit games. He had a pair of two-game hitless streaks from May 14-23 but otherwise has yet to follow up one oh-fer with another.
“I feel really good,” Nunez said. “My timing is good, my confidence, too. I just keep playing, keep doing my thing and don’t worry about anything. Enjoy the game.”

Related Topics: MINNESOTA TWINS
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