NEW YORK — Kiké Hernández entered the top of the eighth inning against the Yankees nursing an 0-for-27 slump. His struggles forced manager Alex Cora to drop him from leadoff to seventh in the order.
Hernández had an 0-for-3 with two strikeouts already tagged to his name in this one, looking no different from the Hernández fans have seen much of the year: late on the fastball, or just a hair off. Battling, but ultimately coming up empty.
Yet in his final at-bat of the night, with the count even at 2-2, the game tied at 3, and Rafael Devers occupying first, Hernández roped a two-out, go-ahead RBI double down the left field line off Yankees reliever Chad Green. It led to a four-run inning, including a Bobby Dalbec two-run shot to center. When Hernández reached second he looked toward his team’s third base dugout, exerting emotion and relief equally.
“It was really, really nice,” Hernández said after the Sox’ 7-3 win. “And I’m glad I was able to help the team win.”
Hernández said his slump led him to more frustration than pressure.
“Nobody wants to go on a skid like I did,” Hernández said. “I don’t know how many at-bats it was but it felt like it was a lot more.”
The Sox will have a chance at a sweep Sunday, and at the center of that is not just Hernández, but Eduardo Rodriguez. Like Hernández, Rodriguez swam through a sea of struggles. In six starts in May, Rodriguez had a 7.28 ERA (29⅔ innings). He struggled to shape his cutter, which Cora said looked like a hanging slider. So, when he delivered 5⅓ innings, yielding just three runs while striking out seven, it gave the Sox some encouragement that their ace has returned to his 2019 form.
“We talked about the cutter going into the last start in Houston,” Cora said. “He found it. We talked about the changeup coming to this one. He found it. So now it’s about keep working, keep getting your reps and be ready every five days.”
Rodriguez’s adjustment on his changeup led to his success against the Yankees. The shift was in the speed at which he threw it. Rodriguez can toss a hard changeup. His average velocity on that pitch was 87.5 miles per hour for his career. But against the Yankees he sat in the 84-85 m.p.h range. With velocity, it played like a two-seamer or sinker, Cora said. Hitters weren’t biting. Additionally, creating some separation from his four-seamer was important.
“I was working on throwing it slower. That’s what you get today and what’s working really well,” said Rodriguez, who drew five swings and misses.
Rodriguez put together a quality outing, but he had to grind. He allowed a two-run shot to Gleyber Torres in the fourth. He found himself in a lot of deep counts early. Through the third inning, Rodriguez went 3-2 on six of the 11 batters he faced. Nevertheless, the results and overall effectiveness were present in the end.
“Today was a really big step for me,” Rodriguez said. “I feel like after the start, my confidence is back where it’s supposed to be. I was searching for so much in the last four starts and I feel like I finally had everything right where I wanted it tonight.”
The Red Sox put up three runs in the sixth. They had 13 hits on the night to the Yankees’ six. And after not winning in the Bronx in over two years, the Sox have taken care of business at Yankee Stadium for the first two games of this series.
“I’m glad we won the series,” Hernández said. “We’re looking forward to Sunday, hopefully getting the sweep and going back home and having a nice homestand.”
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- After struggling in leadoff spot, Kiké Hernández moved down in batting order