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With Pedroia out, Nunez will open '18 at 2B

Red Sox vet progressing; versatile infielder makes spring debut
Special to MLB.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Eduardo Nunez quickly became a fan favorite after the Red Sox acquired him from the Giants in July. A right knee bruise Sept. 9, though, cut short his season, and he became a free agent in November. But with second baseman Dustin Pedroia sidelined until at least May following an offseason knee procedure, the Red Sox brought back Nunez in February.

Nunez will again have a chance to show Red Sox fans what he can do. On Thursday morning, manager Alex Cora announced Nunez is expected to be his Opening Day second baseman when the Red Sox face the Rays on March 29.

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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Eduardo Nunez quickly became a fan favorite after the Red Sox acquired him from the Giants in July. A right knee bruise Sept. 9, though, cut short his season, and he became a free agent in November. But with second baseman Dustin Pedroia sidelined until at least May following an offseason knee procedure, the Red Sox brought back Nunez in February.

Nunez will again have a chance to show Red Sox fans what he can do. On Thursday morning, manager Alex Cora announced Nunez is expected to be his Opening Day second baseman when the Red Sox face the Rays on March 29.

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"It looks that way," Cora said before a 6-6 tie against the Rays. "He's a guy that he can play a lot of positions, but we know the situation we're in and we know where Dustin is. [Nunez] can play second, he can play other positions. But it looks that way."

Last season in 38 games with Boston, Nunez hit .321 with eight home runs, 23 runs scored and 27 RBIs. In his second game, he hit two home runs and the walk-off RBI in the bottom of the 10th against the Royals. He tied a 116-year-old record for the most hits by a player in his first 10 games for the team, with 19 hits.

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Nunez went 0-for-2 his Grapefruit League debut Thursday, batting second and playing second. Nunez was supposed to start Wednesday, but after a steady rain in the morning, Cora opted to hold him back as a precaution -- not because his knee wasn't healthy.

"He's a full go now," Cora said.

Nunez is expected to also play second base Saturday against the Twins and serve as the designated hitter Sunday against the Orioles.

"He doesn't need too many at-bats to get ready," Cora said. "He'll play and then he puts a batting machine on the back fields and he puts the velocity up. He gets his timing."

Nunez is looking forward to again showing Red Sox fans what he can do.

"I feel lucky that I was here [last season]," he said. "I'm glad [the fans] liked me. I really love to play here. It's a traditional town. Winning, every day you expect to win. So it's fun to come back to the stadium when you expect to win every single day."

Tweet from @RedSox: Batting second today, @EduardoNunez15 makes his #SoxSpring debut! pic.twitter.com/UlyMFoPR33

Cora said Pedroia is progressing in his rehab, but is not expected to see any game activity in Florida.

"He's hitting every other day, up to whatever rounds they have, 15 minutes per group," Cora said. "He's taking ground balls, nothing side-to-side, turning double plays. If everything goes well over the weekend, he'll start his running progression next week. As you guys know, the louder he is, the better he feels. He's been very loud the last few days. That's a good sign for him.

"[Getting him into a game is] too ambitious, but he's doing great. Like I said before, he looks younger and that's the most important thing."

Cora said there has been no discussion of leaving Pedroia in Fort Myers for extended Spring Training.

"No, the only talk is [about] right now," Cora said. "His program is taking grounders and he's getting after it. His workouts in the mornings, when he has to do upper body or lower body, they're very intense. He's here at 5 in the morning doing his work. …There's a lot in Pedey's day, but on a daily basis, you can see he's feeling a lot better. You ask him about the last year, how quote-unquote painful it was, he … feels so much better right now. So that's the most important thing."

Maureen Mullen is a contributor to MLB.com.

Boston Red Sox, Eduardo Nunez, Dustin Pedroia