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Eduardo Rodriguez has never been more important

Rob Bradford
August 28, 2018 - 9:48 am

It started with a ride with Brian Johnson from the airport to Hadlock Field back in 2013 and has landed here. Eduardo Rodriguez's path since his trade from the Orioles to the Red Sox just more than five years ago has carried the same narrative each step of the way.

Great stuff. Top of the rotation type stuff. Going to be great. Gonna be a pitching staff anchor. But ...

Well, it's time Rodriguez sheds that "but" for good. The Red Sox need him to.

After turning in a fairly dominating rehab assignment with the Sea Dogs Monday night -- pitching four scoreless innings while getting his last five outs via punchouts -- Rodriguez seems ready to roll. The thought is that the lefty will return to the Red Sox' rotation Saturday in Chicago. 

In case you forgot, this was the Red Sox' hottest pitcher prior to his ankle injury. In his most recent three starts, Rodriguez didn't allow a single run over 17 innings. And in games he started the Red Sox carried a record of 16-3. The 25-year-old had seemingly evolved into the pitcher so many predicted.

But, as has always been the case with Rodriguez there was a caveat.

Rodriguez still hadn't quite figured out how to pitch into the seventh inning, having managed the feat just once all season. And then there was the injury bug, this time coming in the form of an ankle ailment.

But now Rodriguez insists he has learned his lessons. Unlike the knee injury of the past few years that would weigh heavy on his mind each time to the mound, this is all about executing pitches. It is an image that certainly seems prevalent during both his live batting practices and two rehab outings. He believes he has figured it out. The Red Sox better hope so.

With Nathan Eovaldi not supplying the buffer the Red Sox need in the absence of Chris Sale, Rick Porcello offering up-and-down production of late and the feeling of the Red Sox needing to hold their collective breath waiting for the next David Price start, Rodriguez is going to be immediately perceived as a difference-maker.

This month the Red Sox' starters carry the 18th-best ERA in the majors (4.54), having gone just 10-7. The last three weeks? They are 23rd overall with a 5.20 ERA. In the past week the group's  ERA stands at 6.94, second-worst in MLB.

Then there is the bigger picture, which is the postseason. Rotation or bullpen, Rodriguez's presence represents a big swing one way or another in terms of what the Red Sox are packing heading into any playoff series. Or how about the lefty's importance in terms of covering for the starting rotation's uneasy future thanks to contracts of Sale, Price and Porcello?

This would seem to be Rodriguez's time to shine. It would certainly behoove the Red Sox if he is finally spotlight-worthy.