Another day, another win for the Red Sox as they are looking to build their second long win streak of this early season. This was a really encouraging day for the team, who not only beat up on Chris Tillman early in the game but also got a strong performance from Eduardo Rodriguez. The bullpen is still a little shaky and it makes these games just a bit more stressful than they really have to be, but ultimately this team is clicking in both the lineup and the rotation right now, and it’s leading to a lot of early leads. Even better is that on offense it seems as if there’s a rotating cast of contributors, with today’s performance being highlighted by Rafael Devers and Eduardo Nuñez. A nice little change of pace from last year, even if 2017 was still very good.
I’m going to start with Rodriguez here, because the young lefty’s performance certainly seemed like the most positive takeaway from this game. His first outing back from the disabled list was kind of all over the place, as he showed good stuff in that outing and was able to rack up strikeouts, but he also appeared to lack a bit of confidence and spent too much time nibbling around the zone. This start on Friday night against his old organization was going to be an interesting one as we looked to see if he pitched with a little more authority and showed more confidence in his pitches. If he could improve his efficiency and strike-throwing while maintaining the swing-and-miss, the Red Sox rotation was going to look even better than it already did. Of course, he did end up looking that way, and the Red Sox rotation does look better than it already did.
In the first inning, Rodriguez actually looked a lot like the guy he was in that first outing, which figured to be good enough considering the Red Sox were going up against Chris Tillman but still not exactly what we wanted to see. He leaned heavily on his fastball here wasn’t commanding it as well as he would have liked. The damage was limited, but he allowed two singles in the first three batters to put runners on the corners with just one out. He’d get out of it allowing just one run on a sacrifice fly, but there was some concern moving forward.
That concern was erased in the second inning, and it never really came back. The young southpaw was ultra-confident facing the bottom half of Baltimore’s lineup, and his cutter in particular was looking deadly. He struck out the side in the inning, and Rodriguez rode that confidence through the rest of the day. The third was another easy inning in which he allowed just one runner on a walk, and in the fourth he allowed two hits, but one was a bloop that found no-man’s land and ended in an out when Mookie Betts made a heads up play to take the ball off the tarp and throw out Adam Jones at second base. The Orioles outfielder thought it was a ground rule double for going over the tarp (so did I), and Betts pounced on that mistake. Rodriguez would come back out for the fifth and get yet another 1-2-3 inning with a couple more strikeouts thrown on it.
Things did get a little shaky again in Rodriguez’ last inning and he probably ended up throwing more pitches than Cora and the coaching staff would have liked. He didn’t really blow up or anything here, but the Orioles got some baserunners on a single and a walk, bringing Chris Davis up to the plate with Rodriguez approaching 100 pitches and representing the likely final batter the lefty would face. Rodriguez didn’t disappointing, coming at the slugger hard and eventually getting him to freeze on a changeup for an inning- and outing-ending strikeout.
Overall, the lefty threw seven innings in which he allowed just that one first-inning run. The Orioles managed just five hits and drew two walks on the day while striking out eight times. It was exactly what we and the team were looking for, with Rodriguez attacking the zone, missing bats and utilizing his full repertoire. This is why so many still believe in the breakout potential.
Offensively, this game felt a lot like that series finale against the Yankees in which the Red Sox built an early lead off a dominant performance against the opponent’s starter, then kind of just sat with that production. Not that it’s a bad thing, because for the sixth straight game this lineup managed to top the five-run mark. This time, it was Tillman on the other end of it, and it’s clear that he just doesn’t have it any more. He wasn’t anywhere close to his spots on Friday, either missing the zone by (seemingly) ten feet on every pitch or throwing fat off-speed pitches right into the heart of the zone. Unsurprisingly, this group took advantage.
Betts led things off with a walk, and then Mitch Moreland moved him over to third with a single to put runners on the corners. J.D. Martinez then knocked in the first run of the game with a sacrifice fly, and Devers followed that up with a double to snap his three-game hitless streak and put runners on the corners. Nuñez then had the biggest swing of the day, smashing a three-run homer into the Monster seats on a fastball in the upper-third of the zone to give Boston a 4-1 lead.
The damage just continued into the second when Tzu-Wei Lin and Betts hit back-to-back doubles to get one more. The Red Sox would tally another in the third, though it could have been more. Boston loaded the bases before recording an out in that inning — and Tillman was lifted after the bases became full of Red Sox — but they only got one run on a wild pitch. If the Orioles were to come back, the home team missing out on this chance to really blow the game open. Still, it was a 6-1 lead after three, so it was hard to be too upset. The offense didn’t do much beyond this, scoring just one more run in the game, this one also coming on a wild pitch with a runner on third base.
So, it was up to the bullpen to protect a six-run lead over the last three innings of the game, and Heath Hembree got the first call. He didn’t exactly do his job, though he still left with the lead. Baltimore was able to get a couple of singles ahead of Manny Machado, and the superstar infielder smacked a two-RBI double to cut the lead to four and bring up Jonathan Schoop with a runner in scoring position. Hembree settled down, though, and blew three fastballs by the Orioles second baseman to end the threat.
The eighth inning belonged to Joe Kelly, who unsurprisingly came to the mound to loud cheers from the Fenway crowd. The righty tossed a perfect 1-2-3 inning with one strikeout. That brought out Matt Barnes for the ninth, and he got through a scoreless frame to end the night.
So, the Red Sox will look to carry this momentum into Saturday afternoon’s contest with Hector Velazquez taking on Alex Cobb, who is making his first start of the year after his late signing. First pitch will be at 1:05 PM ET.