Nathan Eovaldi arrives armed and ready to help pennant drive
In basically a blink, Nathan Eovaldi was plucked from a team hovering just above .500 and selling at the trade deadline, and inserted into the rotation of a first-place team trying to add more cushion to its lead over the Yankees in the AL East.
The turnaround was almost neck-breaking for the righthander, who was scratched from his start for the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday after being traded to the Red Sox for Triple A lefthander Jalen Beeks. Eovaldi packed up at his home in Tampa alongside his wife and navigated flight delays to finally make his way to Fenway Park on Thursday.
Once he got his bearings, he embraced the heightened expectations of playing in a pennant chase.
“The expectations are definitely high,” Eovaldi said before the Red Sox opened a four-game series against the Twins. “I try not to put any extra pressure on myself. I try to treat each game as if it may be my last and really go out there and try to do the best I can do every time. No matter what team I’m with or where we’re placed, first place or last, I try to give my team the best opportunity to win.”
Eovaldi will make his debut Sunday in the finale of the series with the Twins.
“He’s throwing the ball well,” said Sox manager Alex Cora said. “He’s healthy, which is the most important thing. His velocity’s way up there. Usage of secondary pitches has been great. So we feel good about him.
“We feel that he’s going to help us to what we’re trying to accomplish. Good athlete, from what we’ve heard. Good in the clubhouse. So he’ll fit right in.”
In 10 starts with the Rays, Eovaldi went 3-4 with a 4.26 ERA and 53 strikeouts. His familiarity with the division was important. Though he’s never played in a postseason game, Eovaldi went 14-3 with a 4.20 ERA for the 2015 Yankees, who went on to win a wild card.
“I definitely know these guys, I know our division well,” he said.
Eovaldi said his health issues are behind him. He missed the 2017 season with his second Tommy John surgery. In March, he had an arthroscopic procedure performed to remove loose bodies from his elbow.
“I feel healthy,” he said. “I feel 100 percent ready to go. I try not to think about the past. Just with the whole rehab process, you’re out for so long, and you put in all that work to get healthy and stay healthy.
“So I want to trust the work that I put in that I’ll stay healthy and not have any more injuries and just go out there and hopefully take the ball every fifth day and help the team win.”
With the way Wednesday night’s rainout played out in Baltimore, Cora couldn’t help thinking back to a similar situation earlier in the season.
When the Orioles were in Boston on Marathon Monday in April, the forecast called for heavy rains. The Sox didn’t hesitate to call the game.
“We were nice with them on Marathon Monday,” Cora said. “We canceled on Sunday.”
But in Baltimore, the Sox had a 5-0 lead erased — including home runs by Andrew Benintendi, J.D. Martinez, and Mookie Betts — when their series finale against the Orioles was postponed in the second inning.
“From 6 o’clock to 6:45, I was like, not today,” Cora said. “We can’t have this today. They decided to start the game, and then that happened.”
As the Sox left Camden Yards, Cora noticed how clear the weather was.
“I was surprised it didn’t rain after we got on the bus,” he said. “I saw the pictures of the tarp off, but whatever.”
Cora admitted he felt that home teams have too much control over decision-making in games affected by weather, but tried to take a glass-half-full perspective.
“Let’s see it on the positive side,” Cora said. “We didn’t use the bullpen. We’re good today and we move on.”
The game was ultimately rescheduled as a part of a split-admission doubleheader in Baltimore on Aug. 11. It will be in the middle of an eight-game road trip, but salvages an open date on Aug. 13.
“We keep that off day,” Cora said. “Good.”
The lost homers didn’t matter to Cora as much as seeing a quick start vanish.
“Somebody asked me about the home runs,” Cora said. “That was the last thing I was thinking. It was a 5-0 lead, who cares.”
Had the game picked up later in the night, it would’ve set up a logistical nightmare going forward, he said.
“If we would’ve played at 10:30, 10:45, probably we have no bullpen for today,” Cora said. “And that’s what you run into. You lose the starter, first of all, and then you have to burn your bullpen to try to get 24 outs.
“Then you have a four-game series against a team that’s swinging the bat well and you have to stay away from certain guys. That’s when decisions start. You have to send people down that you don’t want to but you have to. It can mess up your weekend.”
Workman to Pawtucket
To make space for Eovaldi, Brandon Workman was optioned to Triple A Pawtucket.
The Sox are carrying 13 pitchers on their active roster. While Workman is 2-0 with a 2.89 ERA in 21 appearances for the Sox, lefthander Brian Johnson, who started on Thursday, and righty Hector Velazquez offer flexibility out of the bullpen.
But Cora said Workman would return to the majors eventually.
“Sometimes it’s a numbers game,” Cora said. “Obviously, he wasn’t too thrilled about it, which I understand. With BJ here and we’ve got Hector we can use for multiple innings, it just happens.
“But he’ll be back. I don’t know how soon obviously, but he’ll be back. He’s an important part of what we’re trying to accomplish.
After being called up June 5, Workman became one of Cora’s go-to’s out of the bullpen. He held hitters to a .217 batting average with 19 strikeouts in 18⅔ innings.
He ran into some potholes coming out of the All-Star break, giving up three runs on five hits (two homers) in his two appearances as his fastball flattened out.
“One thing’s for sure, when he goes down there, we’ll make sure he’s in the program to slow him down a little bit,” Cora said. “We used him a lot here and we’ve got to make sure when he comes back he’s fresh because we know he’s going to contribute.”
Rodney now second
Fernando Rodney passed Jose Mesa for the second-most saves by a Dominican-born player, but he made it dramatic. Rodney loaded the bases in the ninth inning before striking out Jackie Bradley Jr. It was nothing new for Twins manager Paul Molitor.
“It’s kind of been his M.O.,” Molitor said. “He’s going to give up some baserunners and find his way out of it.”
The way Rodney told it to Molitor, he was just setting the stage.
“He’s joking about it, that he’s just trying to make it memorable,” Molitor said. “He said he loved the excitement, got the fans into it. I don’t think he really did it by design, but he’s got the ability to do that. It’s not the most pleasant thing for everyone watching, but it sure creates drama.”
Rodney has 322 career saves, 19th on baseball’s all-time list (one behind Craig Kimbrel).
“When you make history like that, you have to entertain the people,” Rodney said. “I passed Mesa tonight. It’s maybe something I have to make it hard. At the same time, I feel very proud.”
Price on regular turn
The odd circumstances of Wednesday’s rainout won’t affect David Price’s turn in the rotation. The lefthander, who pitched the first inning, will take his scheduled turn on Monday. Cora said he talked to Price about the possibility of throwing Sunday or Monday. “He was fine,” Cora said. He understands that Nathan [Eovaldi] hasn’t pitched in a while. He can pitch Sunday and then [Price] Monday.” . . . Eduardo Rodriguez is expected to visit a doctor “if not today, in the next few days,” Cora said. Rodriguez is wearing a walking boot after going on the disabled list July 15 with a right ankle sprain . . . Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was on-hand.