Nate Eovaldi is entering his 10th season in the majors. At 31, his pitching repertoire is still as dominant as it was when he entered the league with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2011. He can still maul hitters with a four-seam fastball that can hit the 100-plus miles-per-hour mark. But like every season, staying healthy is his biggest question mark.
Before the COVID-19 shutdown last spring, Eovaldi said his goal was to make every start. To that point, he failed to make 25 starts or pitch more than 150 innings since 2015. The shortened season last year didn’t allow that, but Eovaldi still found himself on the injured list with a mild calf strain. He was a force, however, when he was on the mound. In 48⅓ innings and nine starts, Eovaldi posted a 3.72 ERA and struck out 52. His 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings was the best mark of his career. He turned his curveball into a legitimate put-away pitch, utilizing it 28.9 percent of the time and drawing a 44.7 percent swing-and-miss rate. Eovaldi’s evolution as a pitcher appeared to be taking shape.
He enters this year, again, with a lot riding on his availability. Chris Sale is recovering from Tommy John surgery and Eduardo Rodríguez missed all of last season because of COVID-19 and myocarditis. Eovaldi said he’s a bit older, a bit wiser, and feels as if staying healthy is a little easier to tackle.
“I know my tendencies,” he said. “I know where I get sore and just being vocal with the training staff and letting them know if I have any issues that I can go to them.”
It’s still unclear how the Sox will utilize their starting rotation. Because of the limited amount of innings starters threw last year, the idea of a six-man rotation is a possibility. Limiting starters to a specific number of innings also is something the Sox might consider.
“I don’t know, really, what the expectations are going to be this year, if we’re going to have a limit. I’m not sure how it’s all going to happen. Going into the offseason last year, I prepared like I would any other season.”
Regardless, the Sox are going to need Eovaldi, who threw live batting practice Saturday.
“The ball was coming out of his hand really, really well,” manager Alex Cora said. “So good first step. His stuff is good, we just have to make sure he stays healthy throughout. We’re going to keep paying attention to what he does, and looking forward to seeing him compete this season.”
In the absence of Rodriguez, Eovaldi was the club’s Opening Day starter last season. It was the first of his career, one that was bittersweet because his family couldn’t be in the stands to see it. In what will be a regular 162-game season, the presence of Eovaldi becomes even more imperative. Sox relievers threw 278 innings last year, the most in the majors, the result of the depleted and underwhelming rotation.
If Eovaldi stays healthy, he can be a linchpin to a rotation that has struggled to find its footing in recent years. Eovaldi says he’s ready.
“My body feels great,“ he said. “So, it’s just going out there and competing.”