As we discussed on Monday, the Red Sox bullpen has been just about the exact opposite of what we expected. Craig Kimbrel has been a (near) disaster every time he’s come to the mound, but the bridge to him has been fantastic. The pecking order became clear pretty quickly, not including the nominal starter who’s come in on his throw day to pitch out of the bullpen. Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier and Joe Kelly are the trusted arms, and Alex Cora will try to lean on them to get to his closer. Heath Hembree has been solid, too, and it likely next up on that list. Brandon Workman, meanwhile, is the lone traditional non-Kimbrel reliever who’s looked bad. Then, there’s Eduardo Rodriguez, who has been nearly nonexistent in this postseason, particularly compared to the expectations many had for him entering October.
Now that the ALCS has shifted back to Houston, the Red Sox are almost certainly going to need their lone lefty in the bullpen at some point in the next three days. This is the first time in the postseason teams are playing three days in a row, and it dramatically changes bullpen management. Guys need a night off during this stretch, and you can’t really turn to Rick Porcello or Chris Sale out of the bullpen unless it’s a total emergency. Perhaps they’ll call on David Price if they want to get creative, but the point is unless they get some serious length from their starters on the road against the Astros — easier said than done, of course — it’ll be all hands on deck from the relievers. Rodriguez has hands, and they will be firmly on the deck.
So, where has Rodriguez been during the playoffs? Well, he hasn’t been totally nonexistent. The southpaw did come in twice during the ALDS agains the Yankees. There, he had one horrible outing and one solid one. Rodriguez came on in Game 2 with his team trailing by two and the Yankees having two on with one out. He got out of that sixth inning, but looked awful in the next. The seventh started with an infield single on which Rodriguez failed to cover first base in a startling lack of urgency, and then a few batters later Gary Sanchez launched a massive three-run home run to break the game open for New York. In Game 3 of that series, he was relegated to blowout duty and pitched the ninth of a 16-1 game. That was the last we’ve seen of Rodriguez in the postseason.
Even ignoring the results of the one important spot in which Rodriguez has pitched this month, it makes sense to avoid using him in the last couple of series. Both the Astros and the Yankees are extremely righty-heavy at the plate, and the Astros in particular have feasted on left-handed pitching this year. No one was even close to their level against southpaws this year. It makes sense that Alex Cora has avoided him, but it also makes it concerning that, with the three games in a row, he likely won’t have a choice coming up. Houston has the skillset to beat up on Rodriguez, particularly if he’s not utilizing his full arsenal and specifically the changeup. As we know, avoiding his changeup is something he is inexplicably wont to do.
I don’t think the right-handedness of the lineups is the only reason he’s being avoided, though. If that was the case, why is he even on the roster? To me, it’s a lack of faith from Cora that is playing into this. Rodriguez has been struggling for a few months now, and he pitched to an ugly 5.40 ERA in 25 September innings. Towards the end of the year after a particularly rough outing, Cora specifically called out the lefty for his performance. That was jarring, as the manager hasn’t done that much if at all this year. Throw in the lack of hustle on covering the bag alluded to above, and there’s some reason to believe he doesn’t have the complete faith of his coaching staff right now.
Ultimately, I think that’s fair. Speaking just for myself, I can’t think of many reasons to have faith in Rodriguez right now, and that’s without considering the matchup disadvantage. I’ve always been a massive believer in Rodriguez, and the talent is still there for him to pitch well against anyone at any time. That said, my confidence in him is as low as it’s been in years. This is his chance, though. The chances are better than not that, at some point over the next three days, the Red Sox are going to need to turn to Rodriguez in a relatively big spot, likely for multiple innings. Starters-turned-relievers have had big impacts for a lot of postseason teams in recent years, and the hope was that Rodriguez would be that guy for Boston this year. They haven’t needed him to the extent many expected, but now is the time for the southpaw to surprise everyone and come up large down in Houston.