I’ve been writing about the Red Sox in some capacity since 2011, and I think Eduardo Rodriguez has been my favorite pitcher in that time to write about. That’s not saying he’s necessarily my favorite to watch, and it’s certainly not saying he’s been the best, but rather that he’s just a really interesting pitcher to me. Everything about his pitching, when compartmentalized, suggests he should be great. And at times, he is. But it seems like he never really has everything going at once for any significantly long stretch, and the results are more often just frustrating.
The issue for Rodriguez is that he’s now less than a month from free agency, and nothing has really changed. And certainly nothing over the next three-to-seven weeks is going to drastically change the way teams view him. But that doesn’t mean they’re not important. He could really use a strong finish to his season, and the team definitely could use one.
This is something that we’ve seemingly been saying about Rodriguez all year, and it’s been true. He was always going to be a big story coming into the year, not only because of the talent and frustration mentioned up top but also that he was coming off a bout with COVID and myocarditis. No one knew what to expect. And we’re here in mid-September, and that’s still the case.
As the team was coming out of the All-Star break, Rodriguez was a guy I was looking at to take a leap forward and help carry the rotation. Nathan Eovaldi has taken that mantle instead, but Rodriguez has had his flashes of good. But he’s also had his flashes of bad. Since the break, he’s had four starts in which he’s allowed one or fewer runs (this does not count his start that he had to leave after one inning in which he allowed one run), but he’s also had three in which he’s allowed at least five.
That kind of inconsistency is a little easier to swallow when there are other starters who can clearly pick up the slack. But that’s not the case for the Red Sox rotation at the moment. Eovaldi has been great, and he’s the de facto ace at the moment. Chris Sale has mostly been good, but there are still some questions and he’s currently on the COVID list. And then you have the total wildcards that are Tanner Houck and Nick Pivetta. The team needs Eduardo Rodriguez to be consistently good, at least keeping them in every game and going ahead and leading the charge in some wins. They can’t afford for him to still be figuring some things out.
Unfortunately, that seems to be the case right now. He’s still throwing some great starts as recently as two outings ago when he tossed six shutout innings against the Rays. But what’s been strange lately is that he hasn’t really been missing bats. Typically, Rodriguez is always striking batters out, and the issue is that he’s not very efficient as he’s doing it. Right now, he’s not getting deep into many games while also not striking out many batters, setting down three or fewer in three of his last four outings.
And again, it seems to be a matter of him just not having everything working at the same time. Rodriguez has settled in to mostly being a three-pitch guy, though a couple other offerings can be thrown in sporadically at times. But mainly, he needs his fastball, cutter, and changeup working at the same time. If they are, that is enough change of speed, eye level, and movement to keep batters off-balance and induce whiffs at a high rate. But he’s gotten whiffs on at least 15 percent of each of those three pitches in the same start just once since the start of August. For some context, he did it twice in July, three times in May, and twice in April.
The Red Sox need him to figure things out, starting tonight out in Seattle. They are not longer at a point where they can afford to give away games, especially not against a team like the Mariners with whom they are competing for a postseason spot. The rotation is enough in flux right now that they need Rodriguez to be a stalwart. That’s not really something he’s ever been for long periods in his career, but he’s done it over shorter bursts. Right now, all Boston needs is that short burst.