The Red Sox offense was a no-show for most of this game, but it didn’t matter because they had great pitching on Wednesday afternoon. Eduardo Rodriguez came ready for a little morning baseball and did a lot to quell the fears developing after a little rough stretch of late. It was perhaps the lefty’s best start of the season, and about as impressive as he’s ever looked with the Red Sox. NL baseball rules shortened the outing, but he was great over his six innings of work. One big inning from the offense as enough thanks to Rodriguez and the late-inning arms. That’s a sweep, for those keeping score at home.
On Wednesday, Rodriguez was the pitcher we want him to be every time out, and the pitcher he frustratingly is not most of the time. The lefty did everything well. He was working at a noticeably quicker pace. He was mixing his secondaries in to perfection. His changeup was exactly what you want in terms of movement, location and velocity. The command of the fastball was good, and hitters were off-balance enough that they couldn’t do damage against the heaters with which Rodriguez mixed his spots. Perhaps most importantly, he was efficient. This is the pitcher we all know he is capable of being, and while one start like this against hitters that played a night game the day before this isn’t a sure sign that this is the pitcher we’ll get the rest of the year, it’s certainly a better sign than not.
Really, the Nationals were never really able to get any sort of rally going against the Red Sox lefty. They did get a base hit from Trea Turner in the first, but he was stranded at first. The second was a 1-2-3 inning with two strikeouts, and the third also included just a single from Turner. He seemed to be the only hitter who could figure Rodriguez out.
After another 1-2-3 inning with a pair of K’s in the fourth, the Nationals had their best chance to that point in the game when the fifth inning rolled around. There, with one out, Pedro Severino dropped a bunt to the left side with Rafael Devers playing way back. The Red Sox third baseman made a good play coming in and cleanly barehanding the ball, but his throw sailed past Steve Pearce at first base. The error resulted in Severino getting to second base. On first glance it looked like it was just a bad throw — and it certainly was off-target — but after seeing the replay it appeared to be a throw that could have been caught. Mitch Moreland was out again after leaving midway through Tuesday’s game with back spasms. So, Washington had a runner in scoring position for the first time in the game, but Rodriguez got a pair of flyouts to end the inning with no runs on the board.
He didn’t seem to be too affected by the relatively tough inning, as he came right back with an easy 1-2-3 frame in the sixth. That also included the first time he was able to get Turner out.
Unfortunately, all of the zeroes Rodriguez was putting up weren’t being rewarded by the Red Sox offense. Boston’s bats were being quieted by Erick Fedde, but mostly by the Nationals bullpen as Fedde left with an injury just one out into the second inning. As I said above, most of these hitters were in the lineup for Tuesday evening’s game, and while it’s not a perfect excuse it probably plays a role in the lack of offense on both sides.
The Red Sox lineup certainly wasn’t mashing or anything like that, though they did have a few more chances than the Nationals offense early on. In the first, a single and two ground outs resulted in a batter at second base with two outs, but Pearce grounded out to strand the runner in scoring position. In the second, they got a leadoff single from Devers, but after the first out was recorded he was picked off at first base to essentially kill any chance at a rally.
After Boston went down in order in the third, they had another chance in the fourth. There, J.D. Martinez had the best swing from either side to that point, ripping a one-out double into the right field corner. Unfortunately, his teammates couldn’t keep it going as Pearce grounded out and Devers struck out to end the inning.
The fifth was another 1-2-3 inning, and then in the sixth the Red Sox once again had a chance. Mookie Betts got himself a one-out single, and then with two outs Martinez poked a single through the left side, and Betts got to third as he was off on the pitch. That brought Pearce up for his third chance with a runner in scoring position, and for the third time he couldn’t come through. He flew out to center field to end the inning.
In the seventh, with Ryan Madson taking the mound for Washington, the Red Sox offense started to get going. Devers led off with a double out to left-center field, and Eduardo Núñez followed it up with a single into right field to put runners on the corners with nobody out. That brought Jackie Bradley Jr. up, and he hit a weak pop out to foul ground in left field. Adam Eaton made a sliding catch, but Devers made a heads-up play to run home and he was able to score. Eaton’s throw was off target was well, allowing Núñez to get up to third base on the play.
After Christian Vazquez grounded out with the infield in to keep the runner 90 feet from home, Núñez would come to the plate on a wild pitch to put the Red Sox up 2-0. That wild pitch also walked Andrew Benintendi, who had come in to hit for Rodriguez, ending the lefty’s phenomenal day.
That was all they’d get there, and with the two-run advantage Boston turned to Matt Barnes in the bottom of the seventh. He would allow a one-out single but was able to work around that for a scoreless inning.
After a scoreless top of the eighth, Alex Cora turned to the struggling Joe Kelly for the bottom half. He looked as good as he has in about a month, getting a line out and a pair of swinging strikeout for a 1-2-3 frame.
Boston added some insurance in the ninth on a Bradley double, and Craig Kimbrel came in to protect a three-run lead. The closer did make things a little interesting by allowing two singles with one out, but he worked around the trouble preserving the shutout, the win and the sweep.
The Red Sox will be rewarded for their sweep with a day off on Thursday before heading into Kansas City for a three-game set against the Royals. That series kicks off on Friday with Chris Sale taking on Jason Hammel.