HOUSTON — Carried off the field Thursday at Minute Maid Park, Eduardo Nunez has more to lose than the Red Sox do in these rushed attempts to come back from a knee injury and help in the playoff run.
Nunez is a free agent to be. The infielder’s right knee once again gave way Thursday, making it two straight games he’s tried to come back from a ligament injury and has not been able to make it through the entire game. The other was on Sept. 25.
The question now is whether Nunez is dealing with more than just the injury that’s been described by him and the team, to the posterior cruciate ligament, or PCL. Potential damage to the meniscus, for example, could lead to an operation.
Sox manager John Farrell said on Sept. 25, before Nunez’s first return attempt from an injury he originally suffered Sept. 9, that Nunez is “not putting himself at further risk.”
Farrell takes his players’ health very seriously, as does the training staff. But for the credibility of everyone involved, and for the sake of Nunez’s future and success in free agency, it’s important that Farrell’s statement prove true — that there has been no further risk to the knee by playing Nunez.
“I’m going to have another MRI in a few days and go back to Boston, and but we don’t see another damage so far,” Nunez said after an 8-2 Red Sox loss to the Astros to open the Division Series. “There’s no swelling, it’s just the same pain it was before. A little more painful this time. And we’ll see how the MRI say in a few days.”
Farrell said Thursday he had no regrets bringing back Nunez during the regular season.
“No,” Farrell said. “Because everything that we had, everything we had available to us, we accomplished those steps, the way he felt, trying to get another bat back in our lineup that I think we needed, no, no regrets with the way things have unfolded here.”
Losing Nunez is a blow to the Red Sox’ playoff chances, which weren’t in their favor to begin with against the stacked 'Stros. The Sox made nothing official on Thursday night about Nunez’s status, but the likelihood is that Nunez is off the roster come Game 2 on Friday and Chris Young is activated, on the bench, and maybe in the lineup against lefty Dallas Keuchel. Farrell confirmed Young would be the choice if someone is needed.
But Nunez himself described the rehab process as a rush.
“We tried to rush twice, because we don’t have a lot of time,” Nunez said. “We were in September and now in the playoff time.”
In a sense, why not rush? Why not try? The Sox are better with Nunez. If there’s really no further damage and no risk for it, then the efforts seem noble and warranted — although, trying to come back in the regular season 16 days after the initial injury remains a bit head-scratching.
But if Nunez has been exposed now to greater risk and has indeed been further injured, it’s a bad look for the Sox, and most unfortunate for a player trying to do his best by a team he’s already done a ton for in his walk year.