If Eduardo Rodriguez had his way, he would have been on the mound Wednesday. Opening Day was off the table once he was placed on the injured list to start the season to give him time to recover from a bout of dead arm that hit him at the end of spring training.
But he had his eyes on April 7, because it was his 28th birthday and returning to the mound seemed like a reasonable way to celebrate.
“After they told me that you’re not going to throw on Day 1, I just said, ‘Bro, let me go on the 7th, let me go on the 7th. I want to go on that day, I want to go on that day.’ ”
The Sox, who erased an 0-3 start by completing a three-game sweep of the Rays in Wednesday’s 9-2 victory, had a plan mapped out for Rodriguez, and Thursday was the earliest he could return after putting him on the IL retroactive to March 29. The timeline didn’t match his birthday wishes, but it lined up close enough.
Rodriguez will make his regular-season debut Thursday on the road against the Baltimore Orioles. To make room for Rodriguez on the active roster, the Sox optioned Tanner Houck to the alternate training site.
“The way we planned it, it’s going to be tomorrow,” Rodriguez said. “So at least it’s one day after and not like 20 days after.”
Manager Alex Cora said Rodriguez looked good after throwing a bullpen session Friday and will have no limitations.
“Obviously, we have to be careful,” Cora said before Wednesday’s series final against the Rays. “He pitched on Friday. He threw a bullpen. He’s good to go. Looking forward to him pitching tomorrow. He really wanted to pitch today because it’s his birthday, which good for him. But for now, he’ll be OK for tomorrow. He will be good to go.”
Rodriguez opted out of the 2020 season because of complications from COVID-19. He was diagnosed with myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle. He couldn’t put into words what it will feel like to return, but he is grateful.
“It will mean a lot because of everything that I went through last year, all that,” Rodriguez said. “I’m just happy to have the opportunity to be back in baseball and be back to start tomorrow. That’s what it means to me. It’s been a year and two months, maybe, since the last time I was on the mound in like a real game. So I think I’m going to really appreciate being on the mound tomorrow.”
Rodriguez is just two years removed from a dominant season in 2019, when he went 19-6 with a 3.81 ERA in 34 starts. He took pride in not missing a start that season and wants to pick up where he left off.
“It was hard for me because I want to really go out there the first game of the season. I don’t want to miss any starts,” he said. “That’s the way I like to be — go there every five days from the beginning all the way to the end. But I don’t want to go out there and try to do something that I might get hurt, might do something else to my body, might do something else to my shoulder. So that’s why we decided just to take one of the starts and work to the other one. So now 100 percent and I’m ready to go tomorrow.”
Devers shakes off cold start
Rafael Devers’s tying single in the 11th inning Tuesday night was a positive sign to Cora not just because it helped the Sox pull off a 6-5 come-from-behind win, but because it was a step in the right direction after a rough start for the third baseman.
Devers was hitless (0 for 11) over his first three games before going 2 for 5 on Tuesday.
“He hit the ball hard three times, so that’s good,” Cora said. “You can tell he’s getting there. Obviously, it didn’t start well, but he got a good pitch to hit. I think the lefty-lefty base hit told me more about where he’s at. To be able to track the ball and shoot it the other way, that’s a good sign.”
Devers is a lifetime .278 hitter, including .265 lefthanders. Coincidentally, the Sox started the season against a run of lefties.
“One thing we were talking about, obviously we don’t control who we face in spring training, but we didn’t face too many lefties in spring training so it seems like we face a righty all the time,” Cora said. “Spring training prepares you for the season and all of the sudden you go out there and face two right away, we’ve got another one today, and another one in two or three days in Baltimore.
“Sometimes you need that as a lefthanded hitter, just to stay on pitches, that angle, you track the ball better, you stay on top of it and go the other way, so hopefully that’s a good sign. He stayed on the breaking ball, he hit it hard to right field, and the other one was a good one, so hopefully he can start with [Ryan] Yarbrough today and hit a few balls to the left-center gap and take off from there.”
Center fielder Alex Verdugo got the day off Wednesday. Kiké Hernández took his place in center. J.D. Martinez got his first start of the season in left field.
Cora said he will likely sit Xander Bogaerts Thursday in Baltimore. Bogaerts made his sixth straight start at shortstop on Wednesday. The Sox have an offday Friday, which will give Bogaerts an extra day to rest. It will be the only one they get until May 3.
“We’re in a tough stretch right away,” Cora said. “You have to take care of players.”
Tickets on sale
The Red Sox announced single game tickets for May games will go on sale to the general public beginning Friday, April 9, at 10 a.m. on redsox.com/tickets.
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.