BALTIMORE—One of the most unpublicized happy surprises for the Orioles this season is Renato Nunez.
Nunez, who was scheduled to play first base on Wednesday night, entered the game batting .292 with six home runs and 17 RBIs. He has an on-base percentage of .351.
In a little noticed transaction, Nunez was claimed on waivers from Texas last May 13. He was sent to Triple-A Norfolk and recalled after the All-Star break to play third base after Manny Machado was traded.
Nunez hit .275 in 60 games with seven homers and 20 RBIs, and had a 1.2 WAR (Wins Above Replacement), highest of any position player to finish the year with the Orioles.
Nunez showed significant power when he played for Nashville, Oakland’s Triple-A affiliate, in 2016 and 2017. He hit 65 home runs but couldn’t crack the Athletics’ roster, hitting .167 in 17 games.
Nunez was lost on waivers to the Rangers in April 2018, and was on the move again a month later.
Over the winter, Rio Ruiz was acquired on waivers from Atlanta to play third, which he’s done well, and Nunez has mostly been the designated hitter. Wednesday was just Nunez’s third start in the field—all at first base.
“I don’t really mind it at all,” Nunez said of the designated hitter duties. “What I want to do is help the team and to have my bat in the lineup. As long as I’m in the lineup and I’m playing, it’ll be fun. I’m playing with my teammates, whatever position I play.”
When Nunez got to the Orioles, he started slowly, hitting 174 in seven games last July. But by September, Nunez was rolling. He hit .313 with five home runs and 11 RBIs in the final month of the season.
Nunez has kept the bat going this season.
“It’s got to be the work that I put in before the game to know who’s the pitcher, and what he’s going to throw to me,” Nunez said. “ If you don’t make the adjustments, you won’t know what he’s going to throw to you, and you don’t have a plan for the game.”
He puts in work in the cage with hitting coach Don Long and watches tape as part of his preparation.
“I don’t want to say I watch a lot of video, but I watch video,” Nunez said. “I don’t want to be there all day, but I do watch the pitcher, what he throws to another player. When it’s a guy I’ve faced before, I like to see those videos to see how he’s going to throw to me.”
Nunez says he’s working well with Long, the first-year hitting coach.
“It’s got to be about the routine,” Nunez said. “I’m working a lot in the cage and all the work has been an emphasis on some stuff to help me. We’ve been working great and, hopefully, we’ll keep working the same.”
Nunez has worked on boosting his on-base percentage, which was was a priority when he was in Oakland’s organization.
“They really put in my mind how everybody appreciates [when you get] on base … even if you get hit [by a pitch], it’s great,” Nunez said. “I’ve always been a swing guy. I love to swing. Sometimes, there are some pitches you have to take and see and if you walk. Why not?”
Nunez’s calling card is his quick bat, hard swing and long home runs. He’s hoping he can duplicate his minor league numbers.
“It’s great to hit some bombs,” Nunez said. “I repeat my swing and, hopefully, I can keep swinging.”
Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB
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