Thursday night, Eduardo Rodriguez delivered on the hype.
All the typical caveats apply. It was one game. It was a lefty facing a lineup with most of its punch swinging from the left side of the plate. It was a pitcher facing a bunch of guys who had mostly never seen him before.
It was also perhaps the best start this Red Sox team has received all year.
It's actually been a little while since pitching could be called the obvious problem of this Red Sox team. No, it's not a particularly strong rotation, but Clay Buchholz and Wade Miley seem to have settled in, Steven Wright is providing solid innings, and if Rick Porcello has taken a step back these past two games, he still feels like a pitcher with some issues that will solve themselves, and others that are entirely fixable. There's a reason the Red Sox, in a month of May that has seen them average 2.9 runs per game, the Red Sox have managed to stay close in so many games. Of their 16 losses this month, half have been by just one or two runs.
But that doesn't mean they couldn't use help. Not when Joe Kelly is sitting there with a 6.24 ERA.
The idea is not to send him to Triple-A or the disabled list right away, but the Red Sox did seem to be reaching a breaking point with him after his 5-out disaster in Minnesota. After that game, it sounded in many ways like Kelly was down to his last chance. A chance that would be coming up in just a couple days now against this same Rangers team that Rodriguez dominated.
If Kelly can find the success he had the last time he faced them on May 20th, if he can show that it was the Minnesota outing that was the fluke in this new Joe Kelly era marked by his strong outing against Texas and a patchwork performance against Seattle, then Kelly will get the chance to go again and again until every given start stops being a question of life or death for his spot in the rotation.
In that case, the Red Sox still have a spot for Eduardo Rodriguez. Steven Wright has been solid for the Red Sox, but he's not a guy who really demands a rotation spot. If a couple more times through the rotation nobody is really demanding to be taken out, he can function in long relief until he's needed again. That's kind of the role of all but the best knuckleballers, filling whatever role is necessary at the time.
That doesn't seem the most likely scenario, though. More likely is that Kelly struggles again in one of his next two starts, and the Red Sox decide to finally pull the trigger on the decision that seems to have been at his heels much of his career and try to turn him into a reliever. The six-man rotation becomes five again, all with Brian Johnson still waiting down in Pawtucket just in case.
In either situation, though, Rodriguez should be one of the five getting starts. It's not just about the one game, either. It's about nearly a year of absolute domination dating back to the Miller trade, and the fact that he has time and again been challenged in the minors and responded by exceeding expectations. Eduardo Rodriguez was not the guy most thought would be first of Boston's Triple-A trio to the majors, but that just makes it all the more appropriate that he was.
Spot start nothing, this Red Sox team can't afford to wait any longer, and for as little time as he's spent in Triple-A, Rodriguez already has relatively little to prove there. There was no overriding need for a sixth man in the rotation when the Sox called him up, but plenty of need for a better fifth, and if this doesn't count as the most successful audition short of Clay Buchholz' no-hitter, I don't know what does.
It's Eduaro Rodriguez' time, and there's no compelling reason to delay it after what he did to the Rangers.