FORT MYERS, Fla. — With David Price headed to the disabled list for what could be more than a month and Drew Pomeranz seemingly always a pitch away from the trainer’s room, the importance of Eduardo Rodriguez to the Red Sox rotation has never been greater.
The 23-year-old lefthander, who is lined up to start the third game of the season, has the talent to give the Sox the stability needed to endure a long season. Thirty starts and 175 innings from Rodriguez would go far in covering up the team’s lack of starter depth.
It explained why president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, manager John Farrell, pitching coach Carl Willis, and bullpen coach Dana LeVangie were on hand to watch Rodriguez throw 85 pitches for Single A Salem Wednesday.
Special assistants Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield leaned on the backstop keeping an eye on Rodriguez, too. Field 4 at Fenway South was the place to be.
With the rest of the players enjoying the only scheduled day off during spring training, Rodriguez stayed on turn by facing Tampa Bay prospects. Over what amounted to 5⅔ innings, he allowed one run on six hits with eight strikeouts and no walks.
Rodriguez said afterward that minor league hitters “swing at everything.” But it was notable that he threw 69 percent of his pitches for strikes and went to a three-ball count only to the first batter he faced.
“I feel really good,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been working on every time, to throw more strikes and throw less pitches every inning. It feels good.”
Rodriguez was 3-7 with a 4.71 earned run average in 20 starts last season. He opened the season on the disabled list and was optioned to Triple A Pawtucket in June after a series of poor starts.
Rodriguez had a 3.24 ERA in 14 starts after being recalled as opponents hit only .210 against him.
But Rodriguez came into spring training still recovering from a knee injury suffered while pitching winter ball.
The Sox brought him along slowly and the patience seems to have paid off. Rodriguez has been sharp every time he has taken the mound.
“I didn’t think I was going to be this ready,” he said. “Now I feel like I’m ready to go with every pitch. I’m very happy with that.”
Rodriguez benefited from throwing to Christian Vazquez. The catcher threw out two runners trying to steal second, one on a pitch that hit the ground first.
“I didn’t care about anybody running,” Rodriguez said. “I knew they’d be out.”
Vazquez was 1 for 3 at the plate.
Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.