At the start of spring training, much of the talk surrounding Red Sox pitchers involved pace. The rhythm of the Sox pitchers was out of sorts in 2020, so, in addition to hammering in the idea of pounding the strike zone, pitching coach Dave Bush wanted his staff to employ pace with purpose.
In Nate Eovaldi’s start Monday against the White Sox, he worked at a steady pace. He commanded and pounded the strike zone. But Eovaldi had another thing going for him, too: Five pitches.
In his 6⅓ innings of an 11-4 win, which amounted to 100 pitches, a season-high 10 strikeouts and four runs allowed, Eovaldi tossed his splitter 12 times, his slider and cutter 13 times each, and a heavy dosage of curveballs (21) and four-seam fastballs (41).
Eovaldi has refined his approach to attack hitters. In the past, he mainly relied on velocity, pumping in a plethora of cutters and four-seamers. The upper-90s to 100 miles-per-hour fastball is still present, but more than any other year, you’re beginning to see finesse with Eovaldi, too.
He upped the overall usage of his curveball to 20.6 percent prior to Monday, and has often played that off of his overpowering fastball. He’s also cut his cutter usage roughly in half.
The curveball, a pitch Eovaldi began flashing effectively last season, has proven to be a catalyst for his success. Tim Anderson’s double in the fifth inning was the first hit against Eovaldi’s curveball this season.
The proper and effective mix of the curveball and fastball, and roughly the 20-mph differential between the two pitches, can be devastating for a hitter. If you consider that Eovaldi has the other three pitches in his back pocket, maybe even as a show-me pitch, they add another knot for a batter to untangle.
“Today was one of those days where I felt like I kind of had everything working,” Eovaldi said. “I made a mechanical adjustment, trying to clean it up a little bit. And I felt like that adjustment was really good for me. It allowed me to just get out in front and get that better extension. I think we’re heading the right direction.”
Command, of course, makes it even easier to throw pitches with conviction. Eovaldi has walked just four batters in 23⅔ innings, and none on Monday.
“My focus is first-pitch strike, get ahead of them and stay on the attack the entire time,” said Eovaldi, who has a 3.04 ERA. “If I’m not striking guys out, hopefully I’m getting quick outs, going deep into the ball game. That’s been my main focus: Make them earn their way onto the basepaths.”
Polar proceedings to dissect
Pitching prospect Connor Seabold reportedly sat between 91-94 mph, topping out at 95, during a scrimmage at the team’s alternate site in Worcester. Seabold tossed six innings against the New York Mets, surrendering five hits while striking out five. He did not yield a run and walked two. Seabold, acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies last season via trade, is being watched closely this season. The 25-year-old flashes a plus changeup to go with his fastball and slider. At the team’s alternate site in Pawtucket last year, Seabold began incorporating a curveball, a pitch he noted is coming along. “I totally get how it can be confused for a slider because it’s still a little slurve-ish” Seabold said during a Zoom call Monday. “I’m not looking for it to be 12-[to]-6, but it’s not like a curveball shape yet. Still a work-in-progress, but I got some good takes on it today for strikes. It’s come a long way since where it started.” Top outfield prospect Jarren Duran also hit two homers during the contest . . . A group of Red Sox players received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine after the game, including Kiké Hernández . . . The Red Sox scored 10-plus runs for the third time this year, and hit at least three homers for the second time . . . Martín Pérez reached 1,000 innings pitched in the majors on Sunday, becoming the 12th Venezuelan-born pitcher to reach the milestone.