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RED SOX NOTEBOOK

Red Sox not defensive about Eduardo Nunez’s play at second

Eduardo Nunez cannot catch up to Mallex Smith's grounder in the fourth inning, which went for an RBI single.
Eduardo Nunez cannot catch up to Mallex Smith's grounder in the fourth inning, which went for an RBI single.(Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)

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Before he was traded to the Red Sox last July 26, Eduardo Nunez had started only 16 games at second base over eight seasons in the majors.

He has since started 45 games at that position for the Sox including 20 of the 27 games this season.

From a defensive standpoint, it's not going well.

Nunez has cost the Sox five runs this season based on the Defensive Runs Saved statistic maintained by Baseball Info Solutions. That's last among second basemen in the majors.

To be sure, it's a small sample size and defensive metrics inspire much debate as to their worthiness. But Nunez is serving as a good reminder of what the Sox are missing with Dustin Pedroia on the disabled list recovering from surgery on his left knee.

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In Sunday's 4-3 victory against Tampa Bay, Nunez couldn't get to a ground ball in the fourth inning that went for an RBI single. But that's not unusual.

Nunez has little range, especially to his left, and has flubbed a few plays even when the shift put him in the right spot.

"He's getting better. At least he's making the routine play; that's what we want. He's catching it clean. He's turned a few double plays," manager Alex Cora said Sunday. "Nunez, he's an offensive player, we know that."

That's a clinic in faint praise. But even Nunez understands it's not a perfect fit.

"I'm more comfortable at shortstop or third base," he said. "But here, with Dustin hurt, I'm playing second. I'm doing the best I can and I think it's getting better."

Cora acknowledged that the Sox are playing Nunez more than they would like.

"In a perfect world you're moving him around and he likes that. . . . But as of now he's playing second base for us," Cora said. "We understand he's going to struggle on a few plays. He works at it. He wants us to push him. We've been OK with him."

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Pedroia is not close to returning. But he did play three innings in an extended spring training game in Fort Myers, Fla., on Friday and had one at-bat.

It was the first game Pedroia has played since having surgery on his left knee in October. He is scheduled to play again on Monday.

Cora, head athletic trainer Brad Pearson, and hitting coach Tim Hyers had a conference call with Pedroia on Saturday to discuss his progress.

"You guys know Dustin, he wants to play," Cora said. "He feels great. . . . He's sending videos to show me how better he looks, and he looks better. But it's a process. He's hasn't played in a while and it was major surgery.

"When he comes back, I want to make sure that he's back."

Cora has told Pedroia since November that he needs to be patient and take whatever time is needed to make sure he can play without pain.

Pedroia is scheduled to play again on Monday. Cora said Pedroia's progress is equivalent to the start of spring training. He also will need a minor league rehabilitation assignment.

"There's no timetable," the manager said. "He understands where whatever time it takes, the better it is. Be healthy. Be at 100 percent and then come here."

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Because a rehab assignment can last only 20 days for position players, the Sox will not assign Pedroia to an affiliate until they are sure he is ready.

Big step for Thornburg

Righthanded reliever Tyler Thornburg will join Triple A Pawtucket on Monday and is scheduled to pitch an inning against Rochester at McCoy Stadium.

It would be Thornburg's first game [other than spring training] since Oct. 2, 2016. He missed all of last season recovering from thoracic outlet surgery.

"It's going to be a great day for him and the organization," Cora said.

The Sox traded four players to Milwaukee to obtain Thornburg after the 2016 season. One of them, third baseman Travis Shaw, has since hit 36 home runs and driven in 115 runs.

Whether Thornburg can again be the effective set-up man the Sox coveted remains to be seen. His velocity has returned but not the command of his offspeed pitches. The rehab assignment can last up to 30 days and the Sox could use all of that.

"Challenging hitters at that level will be good for him," Cora said. "He has to pitch . . . Trying to figure out how to get people out will be important."

Betts recovering

Mookie Betts, who strained his left hamstring on Saturday, did not play. But he is not a candidate for the disabled list. "If this game were September, October, November, I guarantee you he would play," Cora said. "But we have to take care of him." . . . Cora and most of his coaching staff attended the Bucks-Celtics game on Saturday night and saw the playoff series clincher . . . Special assistants Pedro Martinez and Jason Varitek have adjoining lockers in the clubhouse for this homestand . . . Denard Span's home run in the third inning was the first allowed by Rick Porcello this season. He gave up 38 last year, the most in the majors . . . The Sox are 8-2 in one-run games, 6-1 against the Rays . . . The Sox have allowed 10 home runs in the last four games after giving up 14 in the first 23 . . . The Sox have tied a franchise record for wins in April with 18 and have one game remaining.

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Sox great Pedro Martinez signs autographs for fans before Sunday’s win over the Rays.
Sox great Pedro Martinez signs autographs for fans before Sunday’s win over the Rays.(Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.