- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 22, 2017

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) - Eduardo Nunez finally got a chance to play regularly last season - and made the most of it.

Nunez had career highs with 141 games, 553 at-bats, 159 hits, 16 home runs, 40 stolen bases and 67 RBIs. After five years in predominantly a utility role off the bench, Nunez got regular time in Minnesota at both third base and shortstop and was named an All-Star for the first time.

Then the Twins traded him to the San Francisco, where Nunez took over at third base. It’s his job to hold onto it in spring training as Nunez enters his first full season with the Giants.

“No one ever expects to be traded,” Nunez said in Spanish, referring to the July 28 trade that sent him to San Francisco and right into the postseason race. “It was a little surprising and a little sad because I had friends I had to leave behind. But it was a good move going to a winning team and I’m happy to be here.”

Nunez was finally playing every day at age 29, almost six years after making his major league debut with the Yankees. Once deemed the shortstop successor to Derek Jeter in New York, Nunez recalled meeting the star shortstop when he came to the Yankees.

“I was just a kid. I’d seen him on TV and in interviews and it was an honor to play with him for four years,” Nunez said.

Nunez flashed potential and proved himself capable as a stolen base artist but never was a lineup regular in New York or Minnesota.

“Every player wants that, to play every day,” Nunez said. “In my case, it was kind of frustrating to not get that opportunity. It was always hard, personally, but with patience and learning and working, everything worked out.”

Then came last season, and Nunez posted solid numbers.

“I took advantage of it,” he said, “and just kept going.”

Last month, Nunez was invited to work out with some of the game’s best Dominican players and renowned hitting coach Luis Mercedes. Nunez joined Robinson Cano, Jean Segura, Marcell Ozuna and Edwin Encarnacion on the island.

Segura, now with the Seattle Mariners, gave credit to Mercedes for his productive season at the plate last year with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Nunez has gotten to know his Giants teammates and coaches better and feels more at home with the club.

A previous hamstring injury kept him from consideration for the Dominican Republic’s World Baseball Classic team, but Nunez is excited to be on a World Series contender where winning is tradition.

“I also played with the Yankees, another winning club, so I already had that mentality from that experience,” Nunez said.

NOTES: Reliever Will Smith has been shut down with elbow inflammation in his pitching arm. An MRI revealed no structural damage, and Smith, the late-inning left-handed setup man, is still expected to be ready for opening day. The Giants have a plan for Smith to make six spring training appearances before the regular season starts. … Manager Bruce Bochy said he’ll speak with the team’s training staff Thursday about if OF Hunter Pence can play in the spring training opener against Cincinnati on Friday. Pence has been dealing with a muscle injury. … Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain are expected to pitch on Friday, then Ty Blach, who is competing for the fifth rotation spot, on Saturday. Matt Moore and Tyler Beede are scheduled for Sunday. Bumgarner would next appear on the Feb. 28 if he pitches on Friday, Bochy said.

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