I’m still not really sure what we’re supposed to call this season for Eduardo Rodriguez. I keep wanting to call it a breakout, but people continue to (correctly) point out that he was already starting to pitch this well at the end of last season. Perhaps it’s because I was still being influenced by his early-season performance in 2016, but even the second half last year didn’t feel quite like this.
Obviously, that’s not a tangible description, and I’m not even sure how to articulate it. All I know is that I’m suddenly confident every time Rodriguez is set to take the mound. For someone who has long been among the lowest on the lefty, it’s a strange — but good — feeling.
Starts like the one Rodriguez put together on Friday only serve to make me more confident. The young southpaw didn’t have his best start on a consistent basis against the Mariners, and Seattle put together plenty of opportunities. When push came to shove, though, Rodriguez came through with the perfect pitch in every situation. It’s not the first start of this kind he’s had this year, but the fact that he’s been able to do this more than once only serves to be more encouraging.
In all, Rodriguez didn’t have a single clean inning through his six-inning start. In the first, he allowed a one-out single but nothing else. He led off the second by allowing a walk and followed that up by giving up a shot off the Monster. Lucky for him, Danny Valencia got greedy and was gunned down by an accurate and strong throw from Jackie Bradley, which has been something of a rarity in 2017. With a runner on third and one down, Rodriguez got a line out and a strikeout to end the inning unscathed.
The third involved a runner getting to third base before Rodriguez induced a weak groundout, and he got out of the fifth after allowing two baserunners by getting a weak fly ball with two outs to end the inning.
His most impressive inning was probably the sixth, though. Rain entered the area in this time, and it was clear that the lefty was struggling to control the ball with the precipitation coming down. He gave up a deep flyout to center field that looked like it may have had a chance to go out, and would later allow a walk. Then, up over 100 pitches and with only a one-run cushion, Rodriguez struck out Valencia with a picture-perfect pitch at the knees on the outside corner. It may not seem that impressive in hindsight, but at the time it seemed to be a huge spot and Rodriguez came through with a clutch pitch
His end line isn’t overly impressive, which makes sense given that he wasn’t overly impressive with his stuff and command. In his six shutout innings, Rodriguez struck out four batters and walked three while allowing five hits. It’s not a horrible line, but it’s not one that would generally lead to zero runs. This is just the kind of year he’s having, making good pitches when he needs them. The most impressive part of this particular outing was probably holding Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz to a combined 0-6 with three strikeouts.
Meanwhile, the offense fell back into old habits by failing to take advantage of situations that should’ve led to big innings. They were facing off against Yovani Gallardo, who may have been underrated a few years back but is no longer impressive. They got an early run in the second when Hanley Ramirez led the frame off with a double and scored after two ground outs, but it was a lot of frustration after that.
For instance, they loaded the bases in the third — albeit with two outs — before Josh Rutledge flew out to end the inning without a run. After a quick first out in the fourth things looked to really get cooking when Christian Vazquez and Deven Marrero — the eight and nine hitters, of course — got a couple of singles to put runners on the corners for Mookie Betts. Then, the 2016 AL MVP runner-up grounded into an inning-ended double play.
After stranding another runner in scoring position in the sixth, the Red Sox finally came through with a couple more in the seventh, mostly thanks to Gallardo. The Mariners starter allowed an infield single and two walks to load the bases with one out. It was clear that he had lost it, a fact that only became more clear when he allowed a run on a wild pitch before walking yet another batter to re-load the bases. That led to the Mariners calling upon Dan Altavilla from the bullpen. Catcher Mike Zunino welcomed the new pitcher by allowing a passed ball on a relatively easy fastball to allow another run and give the Red Sox a 3-0 lead. The Red Sox would later load the bases again, but they could only plate the two runs.
From there, the Red Sox bullpen took care of business. Heath Hembree shut things down in the seventh, Matt Barnes handled the eighth without a hitch and Craig Kimbrel did Craig Kimbrel things in the ninth.
So, that’s five in a row for the Red Sox and suddenly find themselves with a chance to get into second place in the AL East, depending on the outcome of the Orioles-Astros game. They are in a good place right now, with either the offense or the pitching willing to pick up the other on a nightly basis. On Friday, it was Rodriguez picking up the frustrating offense, and he did it despite getting into some trouble in just about every inning.