Figuring out what’s wrong with Renato Núñez isn’t the complicated part of his slump.
It’s snapping him out of it.
Núñez is missing from the Orioles lineup after another hitless night left him 1-for-27 since May 1. He’s 4-for-48 going back to April 24 and hasn’t drawn a walk in that period.
Health isn’t the issue. Núñez could swing the bat while bothered by right biceps soreness that no longer is present. Player and manager agree that he’s burrowed too deep inside his own head and needs to relax and not let the slump consume him. Not give it more room to grow.
“I’ve got to say the last couple days I’m not feeling that good at all,” he said. “As you can see, I’m not taking good at-bats. I should be taking better at-bats. I should be taking my walks, at least.
“Sometimes we hit the ball hard and it goes straight to somebody, but what we can control is the strike zone and seeing better pitches, and I think that’s what is in my mind right now. I’m going to try to swing at better pitches and see the ball better.
“I think it’s more like a mental thing. When you’re not getting those hits, you always want to swing because of course you want to get a base hit or double or whatever. I think that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been swinging at balls I should not swing at and I think that’s more like a mental thing. Just focus on your at-bat and if it’s a strike, swing, and if it’s a ball, just let it go and take the walk.”
The pressure to reach base increases for a player who can’t really contribute in any other manner. Núñez is the primary designated hitter. It isn’t the same as Chris Davis, who could impact a game with his mitt.
Núñez’s average has tumbled to .227 with a .268 on-base percentage and .390 slugging percentage in 149 plate appearances. He ranked among the team leaders last season with a .336 OBP.
“For me, he’s just pressing,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “When guys press, they get tense, their swings get real big. It’s like he’s trying to hit three home runs in one swing. Noonie’s always been a good hitter. Middle of the field power when the pitcher makes a mistake. I just feel like he’s trying so hard.
“We know he’s scuffling, we know he’s pressing. He’s just battling himself a little bit at the plate. Just love to see him relax and take a base hit through the middle, line drive the other way, something to kind of get him going, to kind of get him back centered square in the middle of the field. It just looks like he’s trying way too hard.”
Hyde hasn’t decided whether Núñez will return to the lineup for Sunday’s series finale against the Angels.
“I haven’t gone past today, to be honest with you,” Hyde said.
Núñez is tied for second on the club with six home runs, but the drought extends to April 23. He also differs from Davis in that he can’t refer back to an extensive track record. His major league resume includes 127 games.
“When you don’t have a career in the big leagues, you don’t have much to go back to, and so when young players press, it might seem a little worse than it normally is because, one, they’re trying to stay here, and they’re trying to do everything they can to be on the club,” Hyde said.
“You just feel for guys who are going through struggles. But every player does and that’s part of this game and that’s dealing with adversities and how to deal with it is a huge part of playing in the big leagues. So Noonie’s going through a little bit of a struggle right now. Hoping that he’s dealing with it well.
“He’s putting a ton of time in the cage with Don (Long) and Howie (Clark) and hopefully he pulls out here soon.”
Update: Albert Pujols hit a two-run homer off Dylan Bundy in the first inning to give the Angels a 2-0 lead.
Update II: Dwight Smith Jr. hit a two-run homer off Matt Harvey in the bottom of the first to tie the game.
Update III: Pujols led off the fourth with another home run off Bundy to give the Angels a 3-2 lead.
Update IV: Gabriel Ynoa loaded the bases with one out in the sixth and the Angels scored three runs, two on fielder’s choice grounders, to lead 6-2. Kole Calhoun had an RBI single.