Nathan Eovaldi's absence being felt more than ever

Amin Touri
June 13, 2019 - 7:38 pm

It’s been an uncertain year for the Red Sox starting rotation, with injuries forcing Alex Cora to look deep down the depth chart for spot starts in recent weeks.

Darwinzon Hernandez was the Tuesday starter, Josh Smith got the ball on Saturday Ryan Weber had two starts at the end of May — the starting pitching depth has been stretched thin, and that makes the potential return of righty Nathan Eovaldi all the more important.

Eovaldi had a setback last week in his rehab, dealing with some soreness and potential tendinitis in his biceps that has pushed back his return. Cora, for his part, isn’t concerned about the timetable.

"It's been what, a week? He's feeing better, we just have to make sure he feels great, that's the most important thing,” Cora said. “Whatever it is, whenever it is, we'll decide what we're going to do after that. As of now, it looks like it's a lot of time, but it's really not, we're still comfortable with where we're at."

The veteran righty came to Boston from Tampa Bay at the trade deadline last July and was solid down the stretch, eventually earning a four-year, $68 million contract off the back of an excellent postseason where he was a key cog in the Red Sox’ World Series run.

A flamethrower with two Tommy John surgeries in his past, Eovaldi underwent surgery to remove loose bodies from his right elbow in late April, and is still expected to be out until at least the end of June. He was placed on the 10-day injured list on June 9.

Eovaldi’s return would seriously bolster the back end of a rotation that can often rely on Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, David Price and Eduardo Rodriguez through the first four days of the five-day cycle, but naming a starter for day five has been the trouble.

Cora also spoke about the importance of Brian Johnson and Hector Velazquez — not stars, but solid fifth starters — who are also on the comeback trail, and who could also help plug that gap when needed.

"We always talk about Nate, but we don't talk about Hector and BJ, what they did last year, they were huge for what we did,” Cora said. “At one point last year, Drew [Pomeranz> was down... I know Hector pitched game four in Tampa and BJ pitched game five in Miami, and every five days we had someone like that you know, and they step up and they give us a chance to win. I remember that weekend here against the Yankees when we separated ourselves from them, BJ gives up four in the first inning and then he goes six innings. That's what we've been missing.”

The manager referred to Johnson and Velazquez as “team MVPs” through last year’s title run for what they did in that role. They could be closer to a return than Eovaldi, as Johnson threw a rehab start in Pawtucket last weekend and, along with Velazquez, could this weekend as well.

Their returns would come at a good time, as Cora can only hand the ball to guys like Weber and Smith so many times.

“This week was tough, because we had to do it three times,” the skipper said. “Smitty threw the ball okay, but still it was four innings. With Weber in Kansas City it was an inning and a third, and then Darwinzon, the position we were in, it was a tough one.

“Those guys, we can talk about the horses, obviously, we would like to line them up and just roll, but the other guys, they've been missed. Brian and Hector, because they did an outstanding job last year, not only starting games but coming and going three innings with the game on the line and relying on them, that's been tough. It puts us in a tough situation using the bullpen, because you overuse guys on those days, and you're kind of chasing your tail the whole time. It seems like we're never at full strength bullpen-wise, and we have to manage it in a better way."