fb-pixel Skip to main content

HOUSTON — The more looks a hitter can get at a pitcher, the better the odds become for that hitter to find success.

When it comes to Nate Eovaldi’s third exposure — one start, one relief appearance — to the Astros in Friday night’s Game 6 of the ALCS, that maxim does not necessarily apply.

Thanks to Eovaldi’s five-pitch arsenal — four-seam fastball, cut fastball, slider, curveball, and changeup — and also a fondness for introducing subtle changes to his windup and delivery, Eovaldi poses a stiffer challenge than the standard three-pitch starter.

For those looking for hope with the Red Sox on the brink of elimination, the element of surprise about which pitch Eovaldi will throw is one of the brightest this team has going.

Advertisement



“That’s kind of the nice thing about having five pitches that I throw a lot, I have different ways of trying to get them out,” Eovaldi said on a Zoom call from Boston Thursday afternoon before the team flew here. “The last time I faced them [as a starter], I basically went through the lineup twice before I was taken out. So the other night when I came in to relieve, it’s a different atmosphere when you come out of the bullpen. You’re in kind of like that attack mode right away as opposed to starting. I kind of try to set them up in different ways.”

Perhaps lost in the sense of relief that greets an Eovaldi postseason appearance is that Astros hitters have hardly been fooled.

In Eovaldi’s six innings in this series, the Astros have seven runs (all earned) on seven hits. And while Eovaldi is not alone on the Red Sox in getting hit hard by the Astros, his results are a reminder of how thin the margin of error is for a pitcher against an elite lineup, no matter how good his postseason pedigree.

Advertisement



Nate Eovaldi struggled a bit in relief against the Astros in Game 4.
Nate Eovaldi struggled a bit in relief against the Astros in Game 4.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

In order to blunt the Astros’ attack, Eovaldi said it’s about “staying aggressive, not falling behind in counts.”

“I feel like whenever you fall behind in a count with these guys, they’re able to do damage, and they do a really good job of passing the at-bats on to each other,” added Eovaldi. “There’s not an easy out in the lineup, for sure. It’s going to be making sure I stay ahead in the count and stay on the attack and try to keep the crowd out of the game.”

Since his two-thirds of an inning (four earned runs and the loss) in Game 4 on Tuesday, Eovaldi said he has focused on being rested for Friday’s start.

“I took [Wednesday] off, I didn’t really throw, made sure I was nice and recovered,” he said. “Just got done playing catch today. I feel great. I don’t think there’s any limitations. My arm feels good, and mentally I’m going to be ready and prepared for this game tomorrow.”

Kevin Plawecki will catch Eovaldi, as he has throughout his playoff starts, but that is the only lineup change anticipated.

Astros’ Garcia good to go

In Game 6 the Astros will go with Luis Garcia, who also started Game 2, allowing a grand slam in the first inning and being lifted after walking the leadoff batter in the second.

At the time, the Astros said Garcia was taken out of the game because of a knee issue. In declining to get specific, Astros manager Dusty Baker said he has been assured by the training staff and pitching coach that Garcia is OK.

Advertisement



“Most athletes, they’re going to say, ‘I’m doing good,’ even when they’re not, but you can usually sense, see a wince on one of their faces after a pitch or whatever,” said Baker. “I just hope whatever adjustment that they made that he is not thinking through the act of pitching while he is making his adjustment.”

Luis Garcia will get the call for Houston in Game 6.
Luis Garcia will get the call for Houston in Game 6.Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

The eight batters who faced Garcia in Game 2 had two hits, walked three times, and scored five earned runs. Jake Odorizzi, who pitched the next four innings, will be available again in long relief.

With an opportunity to close out the series. Baker said he will not manage his team much differently.

“Probably just have a little shorter leash and just let them play,” he said.

Adjustments needed

Manager Alex Cora acknowledged the success Astros pitchers have had in stifling the Red Sox offense over the last two games.

He knows the secret to reversing it.

“[Houston pitchers] have been relentless getting ahead,” said Cora. “We faced some other pitching staffs that have been relentless working ahead, so we’ll make our adjustments and get them out of their comfort zone the same way they got us out of our comfort zone.”

On the flip side, Cora understands Red Sox pitchers have to stop the Astros’ “fast-break” offense and start “making them humans, not Hall of Famers with men in scoring position.

Advertisement



Alex Cora knows the Red Sox have to make some adjustments for Friday's Game 6 in Houston.
Alex Cora knows the Red Sox have to make some adjustments for Friday's Game 6 in Houston.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

“They’re average with nobody on,” added Cora. “We have to make sure we bring it back to earth. We stop what they’re doing. We have to execute pitches. There are certain guys that, they’re not going to beat us tomorrow, and there are other guys that have to step up for them, and they have to do the damage.”

Ground to a halt

Xander Bogaerts, 2 for 9 in the last two games, has seen too many ground balls from Red Sox hitters lately.

“Maybe start by getting the ball in the air, let’s try that out,” said Bogaerts. “Just some nights it’s not your night, and it really sucks that it goes that way. We’re down, 7-0 [in Game 5]. I don’t feel like anyone is trying to hit a seven-run homer. That doesn’t exist no matter how far you hit it. It just counts for one point. I just think guys were getting good pitches to hit and for some reason it was rolling over, it was going into the ground.

“We didn’t stay to the middle of the field as much as possible. We were getting in actually some good counts, you know, 1-0, 2-0. Hopefully we stick more to the middle of the field and turn this around. We have plenty of time still.”

Cordero designated

In reinstating righthander Phillips Valdez off the COVID-19-related injured list, the Red Sox designated for assignment Franchy Cordero, the initially intriguing return piece in the three-way trade that sent Andrew Benintendi to the Royals in February.

Advertisement



Cordero, 27, never showed much more than the flashes of power he displayed with Kansas City. He made 27 starts in left field, eight at first base, one in right field, one at designated hitter, and hit .189 (24 for 127) with six doubles, one home run, and nine RBIs.

That the Red Sox let him go when he had an option year remaining on his contract is telling.


Michael Silverman can be reached at michael.silverman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeSilvermanBB.