SEATTLE -- By the time Rafael Devers stepped to the plate for his first major league at-bat Tuesday night, the Boston Red Sox were still scoreless in Seattle. Matter of fact, they had been shut out for 15 consecutive innings and hadn't scored in 136 of their past 167 innings overall.
Eduardo Nunez might help fix that. Maybe.
Nunez, acquired from the San Francisco Giants late Tuesday night for minor league pitchers Shaun Anderson and Gregory Santos, is both valuable and versatile. He can platoon at third base with Devers, spell banged-up and slumping shortstop Xander Bogaerts or steal a base late in a game as a pinch-runner. He's a useful player, to be sure, and he's owed less than $2 million before becoming a free agent at season's end.
What Nunez doesn't do, however, is hit for power or drive in a bunch of runs. And with six shopping days left before Monday's non-waiver trade deadline, there's still time for Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski to fill the hole that remains in the middle of the order, in addition to upgrading the bullpen.
The Red Sox have been focused on the latter. They recently sent scouts to watch several relievers, including Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Pat Neshek and Detroit Tigers lefty Justin Wilson, either of whom would help strengthen the seventh- and eighth-inning bridge to closer Craig Kimbrel.
But over the past few days, multiple major league sources said the Red Sox were still eyeing third-base options, too, even after calling up Devers. It wasn't so much that they're worried about Devers, the baby-faced 20-year-old top prospect who became the youngest player in the majors when he debuted Tuesday in a crushing 5-4 loss to the Mariners in 13 innings. But they wanted an experienced player to complement him -- and to serve as a fallback option in case Devers proves to not be ready, like Yoan Moncada last September.
For what it's worth, Devers had a promising debut. He drew a leadoff walk and made a smart read to advance to third base on a wild pitch before scoring in a three-run sixth inning. He walked again in the ninth and quelled some concern over his defense by making a few nice plays, including ranging to his left for speedy Guillermo Heredia's grounder in the ninth inning.
But Nunez, 30, is a nice insurance policy. An eight-year veteran, he was batting .308 with 21 doubles, four home runs and 18 stolen bases in 76 games for the Giants, including .358 since the beginning of June. He's a .278 career hitter and has played five positions -- shortstop, third base, left field, second base and right field -- though none particularly well.
At the very least, he's an upgrade over light-hitting utility man Deven Marrero, the player Nunez will likely replace on the roster. It’s worth noting, though, that neither Dombrowski nor manager John Farrell would commit to a corresponding roster spot, including whether Devers will remain in the big leagues, until Nunez joins the team Friday in Boston.
“He’s a good player,” Dombrowski said of Nunez. “He’s been swinging the bat very well. He can run. So, he’s a good offensive player, he’s versatile for us, gives us another bat that we feel can help give us some offense, which we do need at this time.”
Nunez was also acquired at a reasonable cost. Anderson has split the season between two Class A levels and is regarded as a fringe prospect, while fellow right-hander Santos is 17 and playing in rookie ball.
But the Red Sox still crave an impact bat. Entering play on Tuesday night, they were batting .205 with a .275 on-base percentage and more strikeouts (147) than hits (121) over the past 17 games. During that nearly three-week stretch, they were slugging .296 with 15 doubles and 13 homers.
Dombrowski and manager John Farrell are quick to note that the Red Sox didn't build the offense around home runs. But Hanley Ramirez's solo shot in the fourth inning Tuesday was only the team's 100th homer of the season in its 102nd game. It's difficult to build big innings when you have to string three or four hits together.
“It’s not even always the power,” Dombrowski said. “Sometimes just driving in runs and hitting balls in the gap, and lately it’s been getting guys on base. It’s been a scuffle for us offensively.”
Asked whether the Red Sox could make another trade to help the offense, Dombrowski said: “Some of the times, guys have to do it themselves from within. That’s what it really comes down to. The only way you do that [from the outside] is if you start replacing players in your lineup, and I’m not sure who you would really replace in that perspective.”
But with Ramirez having begun to play first base more often despite soreness in both shoulders, Dombrowski has more freedom look for offense at virtually any position. If he's able to trade for, say, Jay Bruce or Lucas Duda of the New York Mets or the Oakland's Yonder Alonso, the Red Sox could use any as a designated hitter. And adding one of them would give the Red Sox a middle-of-the-order run producer they have lacked since David Ortiz retired after last season.
Nunez might help. But Dombrowski can't stop there.