When you are keeping company with Manny Machado and Boog Powell, that’s not bad. Even if you weren’t aware of it. During an interview before Sunday’s game in Toronto, Renato Núñez told me he wasn’t aware he was keeping such company.
When he hit his 20th homer on Saturday at Rogers Centre, Núñez joined Powell (in 1964) and Machado (in 2018) as the only Orioles 25 or younger to hit 20 homers by the All-Star break.
“I wasn’t (aware of that),” said Núñez, who turned 25 in April. “That’s great. I’ve been working a lot and did my preparation before the season. All those years in the minors, and now to be here, I’m just glad to be with this team.”
In 84 games, Núñez, who was acquired on waivers from the Rangers on May 13, 2018, is batting .239/.304/.495. He ranks first on the club in homers (20) and RBIs (49) and is second in slugging and extra-base hits (37).
Núñez’s homer total is more impressive when you consider the long slump he endured. From April 26 to May 19, his average dropped from .301 to .211 and he hit just one home run over 19 games.
But in the 40 games since, he has rebounded to produce a slash line of .279/.358/.629 with 11 doubles, 13 homers, 30 RBIs and an OPS of .987.
So he’s hitting the longball more regularly now, but he is not trying for homers.
“I think every time I just focus on putting a good swing on the ball. That is when I have the better results,” Núñez said. “When I just focus on what the pitcher is going to try and throw and when I have a good approach, that’s when I do better. When I’m swinging harder, that is when things don’t go well for me.”
Núñez said he does take pride in rebounding from that extended slump to emerge on the other side hitting well again.
“I think that is how this game is,” he said. “It’s a tough game, and you have to come to the field every day and grind. Just have to keep up the hard work and keep talking with my hitting coach. Giving it 100 percent every day out here.”
Núñez has produced some of the hardest-hit balls by the Orioles this year, and his homer Saturday produced a 109 mph exit velocity.
“Since I was a little kid I’ve always had that natural thing that, when I hit the ball, the ball kind of jumps a little bit,” Núñez said. “Now that I’m older, and with weights and working out, it’s good to feel like when you hit the ball and it goes hard.”
Núñez was originally signed by the Athletics out of Valencia, Venezuela, in July 2010 to a $2.2 million signing bonus. He was ranked among Oakland’s top 30 prospects every year from 2010-2017 and he went as high as No. 4 after the 2015 season.
But Texas claimed him on waivers from the A’s last April 15, and less than a month later, he was picked up by the Orioles. He never got much of a major league shot with those teams, but now he’s getting one. And enough playing time that he can join Machado and Powell in the record book.
“I’m glad, man. I feel great here and I’m thankful to Baltimore,” Núñez said. “It feels great to be playing every day and looking forward to the rest of the season.”