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09/16/12 1:25 PM ET

Improved Nunez carves out spot in lineup

NEW YORK -- Derek Jeter could return to shortstop as early as Tuesday, but Eduardo Nunez might find himself in the lineup regardless of the captain's status.

The 25-year-old Nunez started at shortstop against the Rays on Sunday for the fourth consecutive game while Jeter nurses a bone bruise in his left ankle, but manager Joe Girardi said Nunez's play warrants consideration for designated hitter against left-handed starters.

Nunez is 5-for-14 with a double, a homer and a stolen base since rejoining the Yankees as a September callup. Nunez has a hit in each of his past three starts in place of Jeter at shortstop, and he homered in Saturday's 5-3 win a night after making a costly error in the ninth inning of a loss.

"I was first excited he was back in the lineup," Alex Rodriguez said after Nunez went 1-for-3 on Saturday. "Enormous, enormous ability, very high ceiling for us. You can see the way he handles at-bats, key at-bats. He can turn around on 100 miles per hour and handles offspeed very well, and that's a rare combination. He showed a lot with the way he played today, and it was a good step for him."

Girardi gave Nunez a pep talk prior to Saturday's game, reminding him to focus on the positive plays he made at shortstop, not the one error.

Entering Sunday, Nunez had made five errors this season -- four in his earlier stint with the club, when he appeared at shortstop, second base, third base and both corner outfield spots. The Yankees made an effort to allow Nunez to concentrate solely on shortstop after sending him to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and they are pleased enough with his development that Girardi said he would not consider lifting Nunez late in games for a defensive substitute.

"He's made some really good plays here, some balls that aren't easy in the hole, and it shows his strong arm and his range," Girardi said. "There's balls he's going to get to that maybe some of the other guys won't."

All systems go as Pettitte prepares for Tuesday

NEW YORK -- Andy Pettitte stood in the center of the Yankees' clubhouse on Sunday after his regular side work, finally ready to return to the rotation and make his 10th start of his first season out of retirement.

Pettitte will start Tuesday against the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium, but he is scheduled to throw only about 70 pitches.

"I expect Andy to be Andy and compete like he always does," manager Joe Girardi said. "The only unfortunate thing is he's not built up to 100 pitches. If you get five good innings out of him, 70 pitches, that would be great."

The 40-year-old went 3-3 with a 3.22 ERA in nine starts after coming out of retirement and rejoining the rotation in May. He struggled in his debut, allowing four runs in 6 1/3 innings, when he admitted to feeling the effects of not standing on a big league mound in more than a year.

But he does not expect the nerves or pressure of a pennant race to affect him this time, only his stamina. His fractured left ankle prevented him from conditioning during most of his rehab, but he was able to maintain his arm strength.

"I'm going to go out there, hope I can get in a good rhythm, have my command and I'll throw the ball well," Pettitte said. "If I don't, if I'm walking guys and my command isn't good, I'm going to get hit, I'm going to get knocked around. That's just the way it is.

"Even though I've been out a couple months, I know what to expect, and [the Blue Jays are] going to be ready for it. I'm looking forward to it being a battle, and I feel like I'm ready for that physically and mentally."

Worth noting

• Manager Joe Girardi went to sleep Saturday night knowing the Yankees regained a one-game lead on the Orioles in the American League East, but he was not following Baltimore's late game in Oakland. Girardi spent his night after New York's matinee watching college football, focusing on another West Coast game -- Stanford's 21-14 upset against No. 2 USC.

• Curtis Granderson's next home run will make him the first Yankees outfielder since Mickey Mantle to record consecutive 40-homer seasons. Seven of Granderson's past 12 hits are home runs.

• On this date in 1979, the Yankees held Catfish Hunter Day, honoring the Hall of Famer who announced he would retire at the end of the '79 season. Hunter played his final five seasons in New York, going 63-53 with a 3.58 ERA and pitching seven innings to earn a win and clinch Game 6 of the '78 World Series.

Steven Miller is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.