NEW YORK — Nate Eovaldi looks like an ace. He’s tall, strong, and throws 100 miles per hour with shocking ease. Every year he shows up at spring training clearly having spent a lot of time in the gym.
The Red Sox invested $68 million in Eovaldi after the 2018 season because he checked off all the boxes.
“He’s such a pro. He goes about it the right way,” Sox manager Alex Cora said. “It doesn’t matter the result; his process is up there with the best of them. He works his tail off and he studies.”
But as much as managers and coaches value the process, results are what matter and Eovaldi’s performance has never matched up to his potential.
This is the righthander’s 10th season in the major leagues and he’s yet to win more than 14 games in a season or strike out even 150, never mind 200.
All-Star Games: none. Cy Young Award votes: none. Eovaldi was 9-6 with a 4.50 earned run average in 44 games for the Red Sox coming into this season.
Injuries have always gotten in the way. Eovaldi was on the injured list six times between 2013-20 with an assortment of issues, including an elbow injury that led to a second Tommy John surgery.
Now, finally, his process is working.
The Red Sox beat the Yankees, 5-2, on Friday night with Eovaldi going six innings and allowing one earned run. He improved to 7-2 and dropped his ERA to 3.78.
For only the sixth time in his career, the second with the Sox, Eovaldi went at least six innings without a walk while striking out seven.
That’s the pitcher the Sox thought they signed and the one they will need all summer to remain in contention.
“With Nate, every five days it’s 99, 100. You saw it today. I think he threw four pitches in a row at 100 at one point,” Cora said.
“But then he mixes in his breaking ball, his split, his cutter. It’s cool to see.”
The most important pitch Eovaldi threw was in the first inning. After DJ LeMahieu and Giancarlo Stanton started the inning with singles, Eovaldi threw a high fastball that Aaron Judge grounded to second to start a double play.
The Yankees have been struggling offensively for weeks now and a crooked number in the first inning would have charged up their dugout and the crowd.
But Eovaldi snuffed the rally out with that fastball.
“Huge for me,” he said.
The Yankees didn’t score until the sixth inning and by then the Sox had built a 5-0 lead.
Judge hit a solo home in the sixth inning, only the second home run Eovaldi has allowed this season. The other run New York scored was unearned because of a double error by first baseman Marwin Gonzalez on two-out ground ball.
Eovaldi pitched at least five innings in 11 of his 12 starts and allowed two or fewer earned runs eight times. This is his best start to a season since 2015 when he was with the Yankees.
“I think it’s just the consistency of my off-speed pitches,” he said. “I feel really good mechanically. There’s just a couple of things I want to stay on top of. First-pitch strikes, that’s the thing we’ve been pounding on all season.”
Red Sox starters have a 3.99 ERA, one of the best in the American League.
Outside of Eduardo Rodriguez, who starts Saturday night against Jameson Taillon, all of the starters have ERAs under 4.00.
“We always talk about hitting being contagious. I think pitching, too,” Cora said. “These guys, every day it’s been solid since Day 1.”
Dave Bush didn’t have much to work with last year in his first season as pitching coach. His emphasis on getting ahead, working quickly and attacking hitters is making a difference.
Eovaldi could be a dawdler at times in past seasons. Now he’s picking up the tempo. It’s not at Nick Pivetta’s breakneck pace but it’s an improvement. The game actually lasted only 2 hours, 49 minutes. That’s usually six or seven innings when these teams play.
“When guys are throwing strikes, this is what happens,” Cora said.