ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A night after Chris Sale delivered a crucial win for the Sox, Eduardo Rodriguez turned in his own stellar performance.
With a makeshift starting lineup behind him, a team ravaged by the outbreak of COVID-19, Rodriguez deftly worked his way through seven innings without yielding a run Thursday night. His performance was enough to escape Tropicana Field with a 4-0 win and a series split.
“I feel like that’s been my best start of the season,” Rodriguez said afterward. “That’s the way I feel.”
Rodriguez established the inner-third of the plate with his fastball-cutter mix which gave the Rays fits. His velocity on both pitches was a tick up over his yearly average (a tick above one mile per hour).
“For the first time the whole season I finally feel like I’m completely me,” said Rodriguez, who lowered his ERA to 4.88 on the year and struck out six on the night. “I feel good and that’s how I want to feel the rest of the season — especially if we’re trying to make it to the playoffs. With the fastball, mentality-wise, everything was just perfect.”
Rodriguez allowed just four hits through his six-plus innings of work, giving away just one free pass. The lefthander yielded minimal hard contact with one of the hits coming on a Manuel Margot broken-bat single in the fifth. This start builds off Rodriguez’s prior outing against the Rays when he went seven innings, surrendering three runs in a Sox win. But the timing of this start, considering all the Red Sox had endured, how much the Sox needed Rodriguez, and, in turn, how he performed, is why it’s such a signature victory for Rodriguez.
Consider: The Sox lost three straight heading into Sale’s start Wednesday. But the Sox, paper-thin roster and all, figured out a way to escape the road trip with a 4-3 record while still in command of that second wild-card spot over Oakland by two games.
“There was a lot of energy today,” manager Alex Cora said. “The guys were into it from the get-go. And to be able to do that, it’s a testament to them as a group. They understand that teams go through some stuff like that.’’ Cora pointed out that the Red Sox are not the only team that has had to manage COVID-19 issues.
The Red Sox had a tough opponent on the hill in Shane McClanahan, but they made easy work of the Rays starter beginning in the top of the first. Hunter Renfroe carved a leadoff single to right field. Then Bobby Dalbec’s RBI single brought in Renfroe, giving the Red Sox a quick 1-0 lead.
In the second, it was Renfroe who came through for the Sox. Following a leadoff walk to Danny Santana, Jack Lopez put down a sacrifice bunt, advancing Santana to second. Later that inning, Renfroe’s two-out knock scored Santana.
The fifth inning was what ultimately ended McClanahan’s night. Jonathan Aráuz made him work in what ended in a walk after an 11-pitch at-bat. Kyle Schwarber’s single put the Red Sox in prime position to add on. J.D. Martinez did just that, scorching a line drive single to right. Dalbec followed with his second RBI of the contest, peppering a single to give the Sox a 4-0 lead. The Sox hitters didn’t get to McClanahan with brute force, but more so with quality at-bats.
“We’re controlling the strike zone,” Cora said. Overall it was pretty solid. It’s who we are right now. The bottom lineup doesn’t look great but if they can put together competitive at-bats, we’ll take that.”
Cora sent Rodriguez back out for the seventh. But when the southpaw walked Wander Franco and surrendered a single to Yandy Diaz, that’s when Cora called on Garrett Richards, who has thrived in his role as a reliever. He continued, delivering three scoreless innings and sealing the win. Richards was requested for a postgame interview but declined, the second time he has done so since being relegated to the bullpen, a role Cora said Richards has embraced.
The Red Sox return to Fenway for a three-game set against the Indians starting Friday. It’s a much different roster than the one they took with them to Cleveland just last week. Nevertheless, they return with the same resolve, still in control of a playoff berth.
“It’s huge,” Dalbec said of the win. “Tough timing for us to go through this. But we’re pulling through, weathering the storm. Whatever you want to call it. It comes with the territory this year.”