NEW YORK — It needed to click. It needed to be 2015 Eduardo Rodriguez. He needed to restore the faith and trust and the excitement over him. And for one start, he did.
Rodriguez’s first bid to solidify the No. 5 spot in the Red Sox rotation since his recall from Pawtucket came up aces. He held the Yankees to one run (and four hits) over seven innings and the Sox offense did the rest in a 5-2 victory Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.
Rodriguez’s outing was significant because if he hadn’t performed well he might have been looking at a long stay in Pawtucket. But Rodriguez, who only struck out one and walked two, finally got it. He pitched to contact, and the contact on the Yankees’ side wasn’t very good.
Whatever adjustments that prevented him from tipping pitches or whatever mechanics had to be altered, it transpired in Pawtucket and was finished off Saturday afternoon before a packed house of 48,329.
This was important because Red Sox manager John Farrell and his staff have made stabilizing the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation high priority. The Sox will see newly acquired All-Star Drew Pomeranz in the No. 4 spot in the rotation Wednesday against the San Francisco Giants at Fenway Park.
The Red Sox want to head into the challenging second half of the season knowing they have five solid starting pitchers who can withstand the 17 games remaining on the West Coast and the 21 games against AL East opponents in September.
Rodriguez’s continued success could also shut out Clay Buchholz as a possible starter the remainder of the way. It creates some tough roster decisions for Farrell and Dave Dombrowski, who in the next week must add Pomeranz, Junichi Tazawa, and Joe Kelly to the pitching staff. Optioning William Cuevas was a slam dunk, but the other moves require some innovation.
Could Buchholz become a trade candidate? A player the Red Sox would designate for assignment? Or is pitching depth so thin they have no choice but to carry him as a bullpen piece and keep him as insurance?
It’s difficult to throw away a veteran starting pitcher.
So Buchholz’s fate is somewhat linked to Rodriguez’s success. The Red Sox thought in the winter that Rodriguez could be their No. 2 starter, but Rodriguez suffered a knee injury in spring training and it has taken this long for him to make an impact. If he’s arrived, then we await the other benefits of having an ace such as David Price.
Price always has mentored younger pitchers and he’s already started the process with Rodriguez. Now Price has a chance to really make a difference and help turn Rodriguez into an effective, confident pitcher.
Rodriguez was confident from the start on Saturday. He allowed a leadoff single to Brett Gardner, but it didn’t faze him. He mowed down the Yankees until Gardner got him for a solo homer in the third, but that was the extent of the damage.
Rodriguez was throwing 94 miles per hour consistently and he incorporated his slider and curveball. He was the complete pitcher, the elite lefthander he had been built up to be last season. As important as Pomeranz is, given the hefty price the Sox paid for him (top pitching prospect Anderson Espinoza), having an effective Rodriguez could be even bigger.
“Early on he got into a good rhythm,” Farrell said. “They were extremely aggressive. A lot of early outs. He was able to settle into a good comfort level. When he did use his slider, it had much better depth than what we’ve seen in the past.
“He did an outstanding job in the middle innings. He got an outstanding double-play ball from [Mark] Teixeira in the fourth, and then the key of the game was to work around Gardner with the base open [in the fifth] and move on to Jacoby [Ellsbury] and get the final out.
“He gave us a shutdown inning after we scored. His seven innings is a major shot in the arm for our rotation. But it was just good — to see the struggles he’s gone through — and pitch like he did today.”
Rodriguez agreed that it felt like 2015 all over again.
“Yeah. Everything is going good now,” he said, adding he didn’t think about tipping pitches after making some adjustments with his glove. “Not thinking at all if I was tipping. My slider is much better. I can locate it for strikes. I used it a lot. I’m not thinking mechanics, I’m just throwing it. Throw strikes and get better and better every day.”
He added, “After being in Triple A and have a game like that, it was great.”
Am I getting too excited over one good outing?
For one game, something clicked again. Something felt right. Something felt like it was 2015, when baseball thought Rodriguez was the next David Price. And that’s precisely what the Red Sox were looking for.
So now Price will go Sunday against the Yankees. Rick Porcello, who has 11 wins, follows on Tuesday, Pomeranz on Wednesday, and Steven Wright on Thursday.
And now you have a rotation that might be able to go a couple of turns and dominate.
That’s how you put together winning streaks of eight and nine games. And that’s what an effective Rodriguez can help you do.