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One Big Question: Can Eduardo Rodriguez find some consistency?

Eduardo Rodriguez has reasons for his inconsistencies, but we need to see it before we can truly believe in it.

Toronto Blue Jays v Boston Red Sox Photo by Rich Gagnon/Getty Images

Welcome to Over The Monster’s One Big Question series. For the next 40 (week)days, we will be trying to answer one important question for each player on the Red Sox 40-man roster. The goal is to find one interesting portion of each player’s game to watch for, whether that be in spring training or the early regular season. We’ll be going straight down the list on the team’s roster page, meaning we’ll be going in alphabetical order through each position group, starting with the pitchers. Today, we’re highlighting Eduardo Rodriguez

The Question: Can Eduardo Rodriguez find some consistency?

Losing Andrew Miller in the summer of 2014 was a necessary but sad event that was made up for by the return: Eduardo Rodriguez. The left-handed pitching prospect had seen his stock dip a bit at the time of the deal, but the potential was clearly still there. In fact, it showed right back up in a big way immediately after coming to the Red Sox organization. At this point, it’s clear that the tools are there for Rodriguez to be a fine starting pitcher. We’ve seen them throughout his minor-league career and in flashes during his major-league career. What we’ve yet to see is him put it together on a consistent basis against major-league talent. Hopefully 2017 is the year we see it.

Obviously, this isn’t really a huge criticism of Rodriguez. While it would’ve been nice for him to have put together a strong year already, he has reasonable excuses. First of all, he’s still really young. This coming year will be his age-24 season, so it’s not as if he’s already burned through some of his prime years. A pitcher not putting it together by the time he turns 24 isn’t exactly rare. Last year was probably the best chance for him to run with a rotation spot all year, but he had the knee issues at the beginning of the year. Injuries are part of the game, and you kind of have to give a young pitcher a break when he misses most of spring training. Excuses or no, however, the fact is you can’t be totally sure that something is there — in this case consistency — until you actually see it.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Boston Red Sox Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Rodriguez has already logged 41 starts and 228 innings in his major-league career, and the overall numbers are not great. He’s pitched to a 4.25 ERA, a 4.12 FIP and a 4.84 DRA. The ERA has actually been above average, and the FIP is essentially exactly average, but the overall line is still not what you’d hope for from someone with the southpaw’s potential. On the other hand, it’s not exactly representative of his time in the majors.

At any moment in time of Rodriguez’s early career, he’s never really been the average-ish pitcher his numbers may indicate. Instead, it’s been stretches of good that have mostly been outweighed by stretches of really bad. For the good, we look at the first half of 2015 as well as the latter part of 2016. In the former, we’re talking about his debut in late-May through roughly mid-July. During that time, he pitched to a 3.59 ERA with a 21 percent strikeout rate and an opponents’ OPS of .679. That’s very good for a 22-year-old rookie. For the rest of the year, his ERA was 4.04, his strikeout rate fell to 16 percent and his opponents’ OPS jumped up to .748. It wasn’t an awful stretch, but it featured a few too many awful outings.

Last year’s split was a bit more pronounced. His season got started late because of the aforementioned injury, and his first six starts were miserable. From late-May through late-June, his ERA was 8.59, his strikeout rate was 15 percent and his opponents OPS’d a disgusting (from Boston’s perspective, anyway) .993. He was sent down for a couple of starts after that, and brought back up just a few weeks later. At this point, Rodriguez looked like a changed pitcher. He would make 14 starts to finish the year, and had a 3.24 ERA, posted a 25 percent strikeout rate and allowed an OPS of just .613. It was the best he’d ever looked, and has most of us feeling pretty good looking ahead to 2016.

Or, at least we were feeling pretty good before his knee issues cropped up again in winter ball. It doesn’t appear to be overly serious, but it has the team on the fence about whether or not to allow him in the World Baseball Classic. It would obviously make us feel better if he skipped the event altogether, but that’s not entirely up to the team, and it’s not at all up to us.

Either way, looking ahead to 2017 Rodriguez figures to be a big part of the rotation. We still don’t know how the final two spots will shake out. If I was in charge, I’d slot him in there, but because he has options he may be relegated to Triple-A to start the year. Whether or not that happens, he will get his chance at some point and it would be huge if he started could get through a season without one of those awful stretches that pushes him out of the equation altogether.

The number one thing to look for when trying to figure out if Rodriguez is on his A-game is how confident he is in each of his pitches. Far too often, he only feels comfortable with two of his three main offerings, and that’s when he suffers. It’s something I’ve written about before, and it’s the biggest thing to look for this spring, possibly at the WBC, and early in the year.

This is a big season for Rodriguez, although it’s certainly not at do-or-die time. I’ve been lower than most on the lefty for most of his short career, but his late-season run has me in the other direction. When he’s using all of his pitches, we’ve seen just how good he can be. Even if he’s never consistent enough to reach those lofty front-of-the-rotation expectations he’s been given by some, Rodriguez needs to do enough to be a solid mid-rotation arm. If he can do that, he’ll be a perfect complement to the Big Three and will give the Red Sox one of the scariest rotations in the game.