After huge steps forward, Red Sox can't afford Eduardo Rodriguez to step back

Rob Bradford
September 19, 2019 - 11:56 pm
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Eduardo Rodriguez deserves this recognition.

In a season that has had to be highlighted by individual accomplishments, the Red Sox' starter has had his fair share with his six-inning gem Thursday (run, two hits, 10 strikeouts) serving as the latest example. (For a recap of the Red Sox' win, click here.)

To think about how far Rodriguez has come even in the past few months makes the ascension notable. You had the early-March spring training game in Port St. Lucie when Red Sox manager Alex Cora called out the lefty for his inability to go deep into games. Then there was that start on March 31 that led to a story with the first line, "Eduardo Rodriguez tested the Red Sox' patience once again."

Despite coming into spring training in the best shape of his life, and four full big league seasons under his belt, the 26-year-old seemed destined to another campaign of promise but not enough punctuation. It appears Rodriguez has finally found his exclamation point.

He is two wins away from 20 for the season and just 8 2/3 innings shy of 200. By making his 32nd start Rodriguez becomes the first Red Sox pitcher to make that many prior to turning 27 years old since Jon Lester managed the feat from 2008-10. On a team starving for an ace, he has officially lived that life in 2019.

"I mean, like I said, the last couple of years have been injuries all the time," Rodriguez reflected. "This year I feel really good. Workouts, bullpens, everything. It’s been part of being healthy."

So now there can't be any turning back. This version of Rodriguez has become too important to the Red Sox.

This is a team that has a rotation full of uncertainty thanks to the injuries Chris Sale and David Price are heading into the offseason with, along with Nathan Eovaldi's struggles in the first of his four-year deal. The Red Sox roster was supposed to be built on a foundation of starters and now finds itself teetering on their new ace.

The 20-win, 200-inning milestones would be nice stories for the here and now. But the true importance of Rodriguez's existence resides in the future.

In a matter of months, Rodriguez has gone from the rotation's luxury to this team's ultimate necessity.

"I do believe the offseason had to do a lot with what's going on," Cora said. "It's the first time in a while it was, 'Just get ready for next year.' He didn't pitch that much towards the end, and that game in L.A. gave him confidence. He was outstanding that night. Going into spring training, he had some goals. He's been talking about them. He's physically at another level right now. It seems like he's getting stronger. The velocity is up, the changeup action is a lot better, he's adding a breaking ball, he has a cutter backdoor, front door sinker. There's a lot of weapons there. You can't run against him. He does an outstanding job holding runners. He's doing anything."