It might have spoiled an Eduardo Rodriguez showing had it happened in his previous starts leading up to Sunday.
When Aaron Judge smoked his 17th homer of the season toward Lansdowne Street in the top of the sixth inning, the Rodriguez of 2021 seemed as if it was peering through the peephole.
Rodriguez’s 6.07 ERA entering Sunday was in line with what he’s been for much of this year. In several previous starts Rodriguez looked as if he finally found his footing, only to sputter in the end.
But that wasn’t the case in Sunday’s 9-2 win against the Yankees, which secured the Sox’ second sweep of New York this season.
The difference for Rodriguez in this one? Location, he said. The pitch to Judge was where he wanted it: a 92-m.p.h. sinker on the inner half. But Judge reacted by pulling his hands in on the Rodriguez offering, enabling him to catch just enough barrel on the pitch.
“That was a really good fastball,” Rodriguez said. “I feel it was a really good pitch to throw. He just put a good swing on it. You just have to tip your cap. Everything is about location.”
Rodriguez responded after the Judge homer. He struck out Luke Voit, and induced a Giancarlo Stanton fly out and a Gio Urshela ground out to end the frame. Rodriguez completed six innings, striking out eight without walking a batter.
“We’re very pleased with the way he’s going about his business,” manager Alex Cora said. “His changeup is a lot better. He’s in a great place. We expect this out of him every five days.”
The Sox blitzed Gerrit Cole, tagging him for six runs — five earned, all of which came by the homer. Kiké Hernández homered on the first pitch he saw to leadoff the bottom of the first. Rafael Devers hit a three-run shot later in the inning, and J.D. Martinez then belted a solo shot off Cole in the third.
But in some ways, the Sox’ offensive performance hung in the backdrop of Rodriguez’s outing. Without question, Cole is one of the best starters in baseball. That the Red Sox pounced on him the way they did is another example of how potent their offense is.
Rodriguez, on the other hand, hasn’t pitched well for much of this season. And if the Sox expect to make a run at a postseason spot, they will need him to pitch like he did Sunday.
The Yankees — who are righty dominant — loaded up with an all-righthanded lineup against the Red Sox southpaw, something the Sox knew would be the case going into the game.
So, Cora said Rodriguez’s changeup needed to have the arm-side run and dip it possesses at its peak.
Rodriguez yielded just one hit on his changeup following DJ LeMahieu’s single to lead off the sixth. He threw it 23 times, second to just his four-seamer. Rodriguez had the fade on the pitch to keep the overzealous and free-swinging Yankees on their heels. The effectiveness of his changeup gave Rodriguez a bit more freedom with his other pitches, particularly his cutter, against which opposing teams were batting .351 in his first 14 starts of the year. But Sunday, he exploited Yankee hitters on the cutter getting four of his eight strikeouts with the pitch.
“Hopefully this is the beginning of something good,” Cora said. “He’s done it before. In ’19, I know he struggled [in his first 10 starts] and then he took off. Hopefully, he’ll take off after this one.”
After a tumultuous stretch of starts spanning two weeks, Sox starters have allowed just three earned runs in their last four games. With Chris Sale inching closer to his return, Rodriguez building off this start helps the rotation significantly improve.
“It was really good to be able to see him have the success that he had today,” said Devers, who was 3 for 4 on the day. “That’s the Eddie that I know.”