Abe Alvarez's spot start in 2004 would be his only major league start in his brief career. (Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Abe Alvarez lesson: Eduardo Rodriguez can learn from previous Red Sox' spot starts

Rob Bradford
May 28, 2015 - 5:29 am
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MINNEAPOLIS --€“ Remember Abe Alvarez? Thanks to Eduardo Rodriguez, it'€™s time for a reminder. The lefty pitcher was the blind-in-one-eye, tilted hat-wearing, 49th overall pick in the 2003 MLB amateur draft. He was the youngest player to receive a World Series ring for the 20™04 Red Sox. Alvarez is also the guy we almost always bring up when the Red Sox decide to introduce a pitcher into the major leagues via a spot start --€“ an appearance with the understanding it will be one appearance and then back to the minors. What was the reason for the lefty'€™s promotion for that July 22 doubleheader? To give Alvarez a taste of the majors, a place the Red Sox figured wasn'€™t far off from being the former Long Beach State star'€™s permanent home considering his minor league success. It didn'€™t really work out, with Alvarez predictably seeming somewhat overwhelmed in allowing five runs over five innings. It would be his one and only major league start. Since Alvarez, the Red Sox gone down similar short-term roads with other young hurlers. Jonathan Papelbon in 2005. Clay Buchholz in 2007. And Justin Masterson in 2008. Now it'€™s Rodriguez'€™s turn. Unlike Alvarez, the newest Red Sox lefty makes his major league debut with an expectation that a permanent spot in the big leagues might not be that far away. This is more in the line of what was anticipated for Papelbon, Buchholz and Masterson. Yet, like all four, it has seemingly been articulated to Rodriguez that this will be a brief stay with the Red Sox (although nothing is set in stone). All of the scenarios are a bit different, with each of the aforementioned pitchers carrying different mindsets in to their debuts. "When you get called up, you never want to get sent down," said Buchholz, who was filling in for an injured Tim Wakefield. "Knowing that prior you just go out there. In my mind I was just thinking I would make their decision as difficult as I can. But they told me it would be one and done." Like Papelbon before him, Buchholz experienced immediate success. The righty, who had been drafted two years earlier, allowed four runs over six innings in his Aug. 17, 2007 debut. He went back to Triple-A Pawtucket until being summoned for a Sept. 1 start, which just so happened to result in a no-hitter. "I won my first outing so I had confidence coming back," he said. "€œI had the one start, went back down and felt good about myself." Masterson'€™s results were similar to Papelbon and Buchholz, although his way of thinking after the introduction was a bit different. "I came up because Daisuke [Matsuzaka] had the flu," Masterson remembered. "They just needed a guy. But I was ready to stay up here. I don'€™t know if coming up for a start and going down does a whole lot other than make it harder to go down to the minor leagues. It'€™s a lot less fun when you go back down there. You'€™re like, '€˜OK, now I have to stay motivated and continue to do my stuff.'™ "Leading up to it, the day before. I remember the night before being excited about it and then getting acclimated to where things were. But when it was time to walk out and get ready, I was just like, '€˜Alright, let'€™s go pitch.'€™ Then it was over and I'€™m like, '€˜Man, I pitched well. Can I stay?'€™ I assumed I would go back, but I started thinking, '€˜Maybe I can stay ...'€™" This will be the challenge for the 22-year-old Rodriguez if he does find himself back with Pawtucket over by the time the weekend rolls around --€“ not going in the wrong direction. "I went down and had four of the worst starts of my life and then got called up after the fifth one and then got my first win in the big leagues," Masterson said. "It wasn'€™t extra motivation, but it could have been trying to over-think. I went down there trying to work on stuff and it kind of got in my head instead of just throwing. Fortunately they still had the faith in me to bring me back up and I pitched well." Now it'€™s time to see if Rodriguez can follow the lead of Papelbon, Buchholz and Masterson. "Obviously everybody knows about his stuff," Buchholz said. "I think he can be a guy that can definitely help us at some point during the season, starting [Thursday]. You trade Andrew Miller and you better get something in return, and I think we did. He'€™s going to help us at some point during the season when he'€™s up here for good."

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