The first series of the Red Sox’ 2019 season was … well, it’s over now. In reality, the Sox should be happy to have stolen one win from the Mariners when their starters struggled mightily. Timely ninth-inning hits from Xander Bogaerts or Jackie Bradley Jr. and this series could have ended in favor of the Red Sox, so I will choose to take solace in that. Here are six thoughts on the weekend in Seattle that kicked off the repeat bid:
1. I was really excited about the lineup before the season and I am even more excited about it after this first series. I don’t think they even looked as good as they are capable of looking, yet still scored four first-inning runs. More often than not, Andrew Benintendi or Mookie Betts (maybe both) will get on, Rafael Devers will move them over, J.D. Martinez will drive them in and if he can’t do it, Bogaerts gets a chance. It had to feel good for Alex Cora to see that in motion from the very first inning of the season. This offense is going to be really, really fun to watch again this season.
2. The rotation was not that fun to watch in this series and it turns out that the “give up a ton of home runs” strategy did not pay off. I’m fine with Edwin Encarnación and Ryon Healy doing their damage, but Tim Beckham, Mallex Smith and Omar Narvaez — who hit 23 combined home runs in 1,268 plate appearances last season? Not a great look to start the season. I am choosing to look at this as extended spring training for Nathan Eovaldi, Chris Sale and Rick Porcello — who pitched a combined 28 innings this spring — and I’d encourage anyone feeling doubtful to do the same. This all seems to be part of Cora’s plan to rest his starters throughout the spring and regular season and to be honest, I am okay with that. The end goal for this team is another championship — not a hot start. You just have to hope these guys keep getting better from here and that it doesn’t take too long.
3. I am not worried about Sale or Eovaldi but I cannot say the same for Eduardo Rodriguez. There are going to be more eyes on lefty than ever before and Cora said as much when he called out the 25-year-old during spring training for being inefficient. This will be his fifth full season in the majors, so we definitely shouldn’t be hearing from Dana LeVangie that he didn’t execute the game plan in his first start, per the Boston Globe’s Alex Speier. Not exactly the way you want to start your prove-it tour. E-Rod threw 31 pitches in the first inning Saturday and was replaced when he finally got an out in the fifth after allowing the first four batters he faced to reach base. He threw 105 pitches (61 strikes) altogether.
We know this has been a constant theme throughout his career, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating. Of Rodriguez’s 89 career starts, he has failed to make it through the fifth 16 times and recorded an out in the seventh inning only 18 times. When he pitches six innings, he’s 24-4 in his career with a 2.28 ERA, per Saturday’s NESN broadcast. He should definitely try to do more of that in the future, especially with free agency approaching. Rodriguez will be a free agent in 2022 and the Red Sox don’t have a dime to waste, especially once the Bogaerts extension is final. He’s not going to get the contract he wants in Boston if he continues to struggle implementing the game plan. I get that it’s easier said than done, but he is going to make $4.3 million this season, so the least he can do is follow the game plan.
4. So maybe we all overreacted about the bullpen. The rotation was clearly the problem in Seattle, but the bullpen looked solid. Matt Barnes earned his first save since 2017 and it appears that he may be the closer now (I guess?). The rotation accounted for just 15 innings in Seattle, giving up 8 home runs, 22 earned runs and 11 walks, while relievers covered 18 innings, gave up five earned runs, eight walks and posted a .200 batting average against with 25 strikeouts. Tyler Thornburg, Brandon Workman, Colten Brewer and Ryan Brasier all turned in at least one solid appearance and displayed some nasty stuff. It was just the start this bullpen needed to build confidence, especially after an offseason filled with doubt.
5. I touched on Boston’s lack of success in Seattle recently and I’d like to revisit that thought quickly. The Sox are now 9-13 at T-Mobile Park/Safeco Field since 2014 and continue their stretch of losing/splitting series in Seattle that began in 2013. I’m not making excuses, but it has just not been an easy place for Boston to play in recent years for whatever reason. I am not necessarily happy with the results because it was a frustrating weekend all around, but I am definitely glad they got this one out of the way early.
6. It’s really awesome to see Blake Swihart start games for this baseball team — especially after the offseason he had. There was a time not that long ago when I was sure we had screwed that one up irrevocably. It was sad to see Sandy Leon get waived, especially considering his success with each member of the pitching staff last season, but a solid year from Swihart would make the move worth it. The 26-year-old has been waiting for an opportunity to prove himself and it looks like he’s finally getting his chance. I am excited to see what he does with it.
Alright, we got the first one out of the way and now we are on to Oakland!