The start of this season has not gone according to plan for the Red Sox, with their starting pitchers struggling badly in each of the first three games. They haven’t been the only issue to be fair, as the offense hasn’t quite gotten rolling yet either besides the late-game rally on Friday. That said, the pitching has been the big story. On Saturday it was Eduardo Rodriguez, who showed many of the same issues he has in his entire career. The stuff wasn’t entirely there in this game, which isn’t a surprise this early in the year. The real issue was his strategy, though, as once again he was hesitant to attack in key situations. That led to too many baserunners and too many pitches, and he couldn’t make it through the fifth inning. The offense (or, more accurately, Mariners third baseman Dylan Moore) did make things interesting in the ninth, but they couldn’t pull off two miracle comebacks in as many nights.
Since coming in as the Red Sox manager, Alex Cora hasn’t really publicly criticized many players. Granted, they won 108 games in his first season so there wasn’t a lot of criticism that made sense. That being said, he hasn’t hesitated to get on Eduardo Rodriguez, whose lack of efficiency and consistency is maddeningly frustrating. After a couple of rough showings from Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi the last couple games, Cora acknowledged the Red Sox needed that efficiency from Rodriguez. The bullpen had worked a ton the previous two days and Cora wanted at least six out of Rodriguez. We know the talent, but an ability to get deep into games is still something we’re waiting for.
It didn’t take long at all to see that Rodriguez wasn’t quite up to the task set out for him on Saturday. He quickly got ahead 0-2 against Mitch Haniger in the first at bat in the bottom of the first, but then came back with three straight balls. Eventually, he allowed a leadoff single in a seven-pitch at bat. After a couple of outs it seemed Rodriguez may have recovered when Jay Bruce came to the plate. Bruce has had a long and solid major-league career, but he’s also always had a tough time against lefties. Rodriguez had to attack but just didn’t do it, walking the veteran on four pitches. That brought up a pair of righties in Tim Beckham and Ryon Healy, who contributed a base hit and a double and just like that Rodriguez allowed two runs in the first inning while getting over 30 pitches.
The good news is that the Red Sox southpaw did get the message after that and settled down in the next couple of innings. In the second, Rodriguez got a quick 1-2-3 inning that included a strikeout and in the third he allowed one base hit but was otherwise perfect. Overall, he threw fewer pitches in those two innings combined than he did in the first.
That was important because it gave the Red Sox offense some time to get going against Mike Leake and the Mariners. They were playing from behind again, but it was only a 2-0 deficit. After managing just a base hit in the first inning, they came out in the second and got a boost from a Mitch Moreland double. A couple of batters later, Jackie Bradley Jr. knocked in the run and halved the deficit with an RBI single. They had a chance for more, but Andrew Benintendi stranded two.
They would get the run back in the third, though, on a rally that started with a Rafael Devers walk. The youngster came into the year in better shape this year, and that has shown on the bases. He’s always been an underrated runner, but he looks more athletic this year. After drawing that walk he stole second base, and that would prove important as J.D. Martinez immediately followed it up with an RBI single to tie the game.
That brought us to the bottom of the fourth, and Rodriguez was falling back into the pattern we saw early in the game. The lefty was nibbling again and couldn’t finish anyone off. Healy started the inning off with his second double of the game and Tom Murphy drew a four-pitch walk. That brought up Drew Moore, who worked a tough eleven-pitch at bat, but ended it with a huge double play. There was a runner on third, but suddenly Rodriguez was one out from escaping the inning. Dee Gordon benefited from some good luck, though, as Devers was playing in on the grass and Gordon poked a little bloop just over Devers’ glove for an RBI single to break the tie. Gordon then moved over to third on a stolen base and a throwing error — it was a tough error on Blake Swihart, who made a fine throw that wasn’t held onto by Brock Holt — but he was stranded there.
After the Red Sox failed to take advantage of a pair of infield singles and stranded two more runners in the fifth, Rodriguez came back out despite being at 86 pitches. Cora wasn’t kidding about wanting length in this game and was willing to push his starter to get it. That strategy did not pay off. Rodriguez didn’t get any favors from his defense as the inning started with Moreland failing to hold on to a fairly easy throw from Bogaerts (it was a little high, but clearly should have been caught) for an error. That was followed by a base hit before Bruce came through with the dagger, blasting a three-run shot on a first-pitch fastball. Just like that, it was a four-run lead for Seattle.
Rodriguez stayed in to walk a batter and get a fly out before Heath Hembree came in to take his place. The righty had a solid day out of the ‘pen, allowing a pair of singles but nothing else as he recorded five outs.
Tyler Thornburg came out next for the Red Sox to start the seventh with Boston still trailing 6-2. He needed 25 pitches but got through a scoreless inning in which he allowed just one baserunner on a walk.
The eighth belonged to Hector Velázquez, and he tossed a great 1-2-3 inning to finish off a second consecutive very strong day for the Red Sox bullpen.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox offense managed just two singles between the sixth and eighth innings before getting something going in the ninth. There, they got a single from Christian Vázquez and a two-out walk from Benintendi to bring up Mookie Betts. It seemed he had ended the game with a ground out, but Moore’s throw sailed over the first baseman. That scored a run, and suddenly Rafael Devers came up representing the tying run. He’d slap a ground ball to the right side that ate up Moore, scoring another run and putting runners on the corners for J.D. Martinez. Once again, it was Moore at the center of the action as he butchered another ground ball to allow another run to score. Suddenly, it was a one-run game with runners on the corners, two outs and Xander Bogaerts at the plate. He couldn’t get the bat off his shoulder, though, striking out looking on three borderline pitches to end a wild inning and the game.
Boston will look to reverse this recent trend with the series finale on Sunday. They’ll be sending Rick Porcello to the mound in search of a deep outing while the Mariners will counter with Wade LeBlanc. First pitch is scheduled for 4:10 PM ET.