Eduardo Nunez made himself a little bit of a mess last night. Defensive errors tend to be regarded as the most egregious and memorable mistakes, and Nunez has had a real rough streak on defense in his limited playing time so far in 2011, largely overshadowing looking strong at the plate. Committing two errors in last night's loss to the Tigers, Nunez drew a lot of attention after the game. So, also, did Alex Rodriguez, who provided some great quotes on the subject:
Rodriguez remembered the advice of mentors in Seattle, middle infielders like Luis Sojo and Felix Fermin and Rafael Bournigal, who helped him learn an important lesson: "You don’t play infield with just the arm. Arm is just a plus. Infield is only played with your legs."
"You got to come and get the ball, you got to narrow the path, you got to narrow the throw," Rodriguez said. "If you’re throwing 160 feet every time, it’s a lot of pressure. If you make it 135 feet, it’s an easier play. And he’s going to get that with time."
"That all comes with timing and working on your personal clock," Rodriguez said. "He’ll get it."
In an era where every word is scrutinized, athletes have largely reverted to giving the most vanilla quotes that they can, and almost never offer anything in the form of insight. If asked about Nunez's errors, all that A-Rod would have to do would say "He's had a tough week, but he's a good young player and I'm confident he can figure it out." and everyone would have been satisfied. Maybe I'm reaching, but I see this type of thing as something that is largely glossed over about Alex Rodriguez: He's a great teammate and has an absolute wealth of baseball knowledge.
To emphasize this, think to yourself: When was the last time A-Rod made a mental mistake, not striking out with the bases loaded or booting a ball, but did something (on the field) that you would call "boneheaded?" In his time in New York, I don't think there's a lot on that list. Defensively, while limited by age and injury, he picks the best hop to field a ground ball, throws to the correct base, and chooses to cut off or let pass throws from left field with surgical precision. He might not always get the hit or make the out, but he always knows exactly what he's doing.
In the same way that attention was never given to the prodigious hitting knowledge possessed by Manny Ramirez, despite some of his peers giving awe-struck praise, A-Rod having the highest baseball IQ on the diamond is unlikely to ever be more than a footnote. A fair amount of that is his own fault, but it's one of the things I find the most interesting about him as a player.
And, getting back to my original point, A-Rod seemed to be make a concerted effort not only to offer insightful help to Nunez, but to deflect some of the criticism that was bound to fall on him. And if he's going to bother giving more than cliched answers to the media, I'd be willing to bet that Eduardo Nunez is going to be attending the Alex Rodriguez School of Infield Defense, and be better off for it.
Don't look now, but the more time that goes by, the more I feel like Alex Rodriguez is taking on major leadership responsibilities for this team, and doing a damn good job too.