Nate Eovaldi is not ready for his season to be over.
The righthander, who has been on the injured list since Aug. 22 with shoulder inflammation, will return to the rotation this week against the Orioles, then make one more start next week against the visiting Rays to close out the season.
With the Sox mired in last place and officially eliminated from the postseason race, the 32-year-old could have focused on beginning an offseason of recovery as he nears the end of his four-year, $68 million deal he signed after emerging as a postseason star in 2018. But he didn’t want to pass on what might be his final chances to pitch in a Red Sox uniform.
“It means so much just to be able to finish the season healthy and to be able to do so throwing in front of our fans. I feel like we owe that to them,” said Eovaldi, who is 5-3 with a 4.15 ERA in 18 starts this year while missing more than two months with back and shoulder injuries. “Given the struggles we had all season, it’s important to show them that we’re going out there and not giving in.”
In a rehab start last week for Triple A Worcester, Eovaldi worked at 93-94 miles per hour (topping out at 96). While his velocity has been down below its typically elite level for most of the year, he expressed confidence that he’ll be able to address his health and mechanical issues.
“This year, it’s been a lot of injuries. I’ve tried to rush back at times just given where we were,” said Eovaldi. “I’m extremely confident [about 2023].”
Red Sox manager Alex Cora said that Eovaldi will be capped at five innings and 75 pitches against the Orioles this week. He expressed his appreciation for the fact that Eovaldi has pushed to contribute for his team.
“He’s worked so hard to get to this point. Now, we’re not going to stop it,” said Cora. “People might think it’s for other reasons or whatever, he’s a free agent and he wants to show people that he’s healthy, but at the same time, I think it’s more about who he is as a professional and the value of 162 games. Obviously, he’s disappointed that he got hurt this season and he didn’t contribute the way the way he wanted to, but to pitch two more games here I think it’s important.
“We don’t know what the future holds,” Cora added of Eovaldi and other pending Red Sox free agents. “For him to pitch here this week and to pitch here next week, hopefully people appreciate that.”
Rafaela the center of attention
For the second straight year, Red Sox prospect Ceddanne Rafaela made an appearance at Fenway Park, where he was being recognized as the organization’s minor league Defensive Player of the Year in a pregame ceremony.
Rafaela, who turned 22 last week and finished the year in Double A Portland, hopes to be back in Boston at the end of next season — this time wearing a big league uniform.
“That’s the main goal, not just to come here, but come to play here next year,” said Rafaela, who hit .299/.342/.539 with 21 homers and 28 steals between High A Greenville and Portland this year.
The goal is realistic. Rafaela is a virtual lock to be added to the 40-man roster and will compete in spring training for a spot in Triple A. His elite defense in center and at short, along with dynamic overall potential, suggest that the big leagues aren’t beyond his reach.
“I think any of our guys that finish the season in Double A and probably go to big league spring training, fighting for upper-level depth, have a chance to make an impact in the big leagues,” said farm director Brian Abraham. “We’re doing our best to prepare him for that opportunity when it comes.”
Rafaela was joined by first baseman Niko Kavadas (Hitter of the Year), righthander Brayan Bello (Starting Pitcher of the Year), righthander Franklin German (Relief Pitcher of the Year), middle infielder David Hamilton (Baserunner of the Year), outfielder/infielder Andy Lugo (Latin Program Position Player of the Year), righthander Eybersson Paulino (Latin Program Pitcher of the Year), and righthander Zack Kelly (Lou Gorman Award for perseverance to reach the big leagues) in being honored before Monday’s game.
Whitlock undergoes surgery
Righthander Garrett Whitlock underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right hip at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. Cora said there were “no surprises” in the procedure. The Sox expect the righthander to be ready for spring training . . . Rafaela, a native of Curaçao, said that he’s talked to Netherlands officials about playing for the team in the WBC. Rafaela met with Aruba native Xander Bogaerts — who will play for the Netherlands — on the field before Monday’s game . . . Cora said returns by both Eric Hosmer and Trevor Story this season remain possible . . . The Sox manager was among those wearing shirts with the message #yonomequito, a not-for-profit aiding recovery efforts in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Fiona. More information is available at http://www.yonomequitopr.org/.