WASHINGTON -- It was a little less than a year ago that the Red Sox picked up Eduardo Nunez for the stretch run, and his bat gave them a considerable spark. Perhaps that Nunez is ready to re-emerge.
It sure looked like it on Tuesday night at Nationals Park, as the right-handed hitter helped spark his team to an 11-4 rout of the Nationals with an early three-run rocket.
Nunez tore into Tanner Roark's 90.7-mph fastball in the top of the second and smashed it over the Nats' bullpen in left-center. Nunez's sixth homer of the season snapped a scoreless tie. For the season, Nunez is slashing .254/.286/.371 with 14 doubles and 22 RBIs in 272 at-bats.
"Yeah, some people have slow starts," said Nunez. "Some people have good starts. It depends on how you finish. Not how you start. So there's a long way to go still."
Part of the reason Nunez has labored through the first half of the season is recurring discomfort from the right knee he originally injured last September.
"Yeah, I've been fighting with my body a lot," said Nunez. "I've been fighting with my knee and trying to find a way to make an adjustment to learn how to play with the situation, and it takes time and hopefully I'll get through that."
The drive by Nunez on Tuesday made it two straight nights the Red Sox broke out to a 3-0 lead, and they did it in a more unlikely fashion on Monday on Rick Porcello's three-run double to the gap in left-center.
Unlike in Monday's game, Boston's offense didn't slow down after the early three-spot. J.D. Martinez capped a big night for the visitors by smashing his MLB-leading 26th homer of the season, a two-run shot to left in the ninth. Martinez finished with four RBIs to increase his MLB-leading total in that category to 71.
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It was in the fifth inning when the Sox blew it open. After Sandy Leon struck out, the next five Red Sox batters singled, including starter Christopher Johnson for his first MLB hit, bringing three more runs home before Xander Bogaerts cleared the bases with a three-run homer to put a cap on a six-run frame.
"Just a good day," said Martinez. "We came out, we kept the bases occupied, pretty much gave ourselves a chance where we kept passing the baton and getting the next guy up. Had a big hit from Bogey there early in the game, and everyone pretty much kept feeding off that."
With Dustin Pedroia having missed all but three games so far this season due to a left knee injury, Nunez and Brock Holt have shared second base for the Red Sox.
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Holt went 3-for-3 in Monday's 4-3 win, but manager Alex Cora interestingly went to Nunez instead on Tuesday, and the move paid quick dividends. Nunez added a quirky double in the top of the eighth when he slapped a grounder that went just off the outstretched glove of third baseman Anthony Rendon and into short left.
Cora had said before the game he was keeping Holt fresh for Wednesday's 11:05 a.m. ET contest. Nunez will again start at second on Wednesday, with Holt spotting Bogaerts at short.
"You have to pick your spots," said Cora. "You can't overdo it, either. They've got to get their rest knowing he was going to play tomorrow. I wanted to play Eduardo two of three here. He had a pitch to hit and he hit it in the air. That was good. He moved well at second base. That was good to see."
Johnson was again effective as a rotation fill-in, giving up eight hits but just two runs over 4 2/3 innings. The lefty has a 2.45 ERA in his three starts this season. With Steven Wright and Thomas Pomeranz both on the disabled list, Johnson figures to get at least one more start before moving back to the bullpen. Brandon Workman picked up the win with one scoreless inning.
If Johnson had been permitted to face one more batter, he would have qualified for the win.
"Yeah you always want to go out there and get through five at least to get the win and then help the team out and save the bullpen, but I understood," said Johnson. "They explained it to me right when I came out, and I totally understand."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Johnson gets party started: After Porcello's big double on Monday, all eyes were on Johnson in his first at-bat. As a Florida Gator, Johnson smashed 15 homers. In his second at-bat on Wednesday, he went perfectly with an outside pitch and laced it to left for a single, sparking the five-run rally.
"The weather felt like Gainesville, so it was awesome," said Johnson. "It was a cool experience."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Leon continues to play standout defense for the Red Sox. In the third, the catcher was lightning quick with his release, throwing out Michael A. Taylor in an attempted steal of second to snuff out a potential rally for the Nats. The throw was 82.2 mph with a 1.82-second pop time, the fastest for a Boston catcher on a throw to second base since Statcast™ started in 2015.
HE SAID IT
"At the end of the day, it's a team win. He went for four innings to almost 80 [pitches] or whatever he had, and under those conditions it felt like it was more. He understands. He gave us a chance to win, and he'll be ready for the next one." -- Cora, on taking Johnson out with two outs in the fifth with the Sox up 9-2
Lefty Eduardo Rodriguez (9-3, 4.11 ERA) will try to snap a two-start slump when he takes the ball in Wednesday's finale of this three-game series. Rodriguez was too fastball-heavy last time out against the Yankees, when he gave up seven hits and five runs in six innings. With no DH, the Red Sox will again have J.D. Martinez in the outfield, and Andrew Benintendi is expected to get the day off. The Nationals will counter with right-hander Erick Fedde.