A couple weeks ago, I wrote that Eduardo Rodriguez looks like he may be getting set for his breakout season. In the starts following that post, he’s done nothing to change my or anyone else’s opinion on him. To put it simply, Rodriguez is starting to look like the guy with all the promise we were dreaming on after acquiring him for Andrew Miller in the summer of 2014.
On Tuesday, he wasn’t quite as sharp as he had been in his previous few starts. The control was a little off, as was the command at times, and he kept losing the swing-and-miss stuff that had led him to a strikeout rate greater than 30 percent coming into the start. Despite all that, this might have been the most impressive start of this run, and it might have me more convinced than ever that Rodriguez is taking the next step.
Things really started going awry for Rodriguez in the third inning, his second time going through the order. He started against the bottom two hitters, allowing both to reach including opposing starter Lance Lynn. He hit Lynn with a pitch while the Cardinals starter was trying to bunt with two strikes. With two on, Dexter Fowler launched a double to left field that just missed being a home run and gave St. Louis their first run of the game. After a sac fly, Fowler could come around to score on a sacrifice pop up to Xander Bogaerts in shallow left field, one of the few times you’ll see a sacrifice fly to an infielder. The Cardinals would score three in the inning, but that was all they’d score off Rodriguez all day.
At the time, it seemed that Rodriguez would surely unravel at this point in the game. When he walked the second batter in the fourth, it seemed even more likely he was just about ready to lose it. He wasn’t really putting anyone away, and something just seemed off. If this was last season — particularly the beginning of last season — Rodriguez certainly doesn’t make it out of the fifth, and probably not the fourth. This time around, he allowed just the three runs in six innings of work. To be a truly reliable pitcher in this league, you have to be effective even when you’re not featuring your best stuff. That’s been an issue for Rodriguez in his career, but it wasn’t a problem tonight.
Fortunately for him, the lineup was also there to pick him up. That hasn’t always been the case for him this year, as he’s gotten no decisions in his last three outings despite strong performances in each.
This time around, they didn’t waste any time at all as Mookie Betts deposited one into the seats in the very first at bat of the game*, and his very first at bat since being named American League Player of the Week. I think he may want to win another one of those.
Betts had another RBI later in the game -- to tie the game — on a ground ball with a runner on third. It wasn’t quite as impressive as his home run, of course, but it was more proof of how valuable it can be to make as much contact as him. The MVP candidate also scored the go-ahead run on a Dustin Pedroia single and made a big defensive play throwing out Matt Carpenter in the fifth inning with a perfect strike into second base.
*Betts tied the franchise record for leadoff home runs with the dinger. Have I mentioned ever that Betts is just 23 years old. Bananas.
They also got a home run from Jackie Bradley in the second inning to give them their second run of the game. Bradley, of course, is in the midst of a mostly horrible start to the season and a fully horrible slump. The home run came on a pitch down in the zone and towards the outside corner, and rather than trying to pull in Bradley hit it the other way to left-center field. It was a good piece of hitting and he was rewarded with it barely clearing the fence. Bradley would walk and score his next time up and get an opposite-field single in the seventh. It’s not enough to say he’s busted out of the slump, but it was certainly a day full of the right approach to get himself out of it.
At the end, it was up to the bullpen and they did the job. It was a big win on the road against one of the league’s hottest squads for a Red Sox team that could use a confidence booster.