When Eduardo Rodriguez sprained his right ankle in a fielding mishap on July 14, it was fair to wonder what, if anything, the Red Sox would get from him the rest of the season.
“Serious damage” was the term manager Alex Cora used after the game. Then we learned that Rodriguez would be in a walking boot for two weeks before being examined again.
It all sounded grim.
You also had to consider his history. Rodriguez was out nearly seven weeks last season when he injured his right knee warming up for a start in Baltimore.
In 2016, he missed two months with an injured right knee, then pitched so tentatively upon returning that the Sox demoted him to Triple A Pawtucket after six starts.
Every injury is different, but a sprained right ankle after two injuries to his right knee sounded like another seven weeks and that meant sometime in September.
So it was noteworthy to look down on the field from the Fenway Park press box at 2:50 p.m. on Friday and see Rodriguez playing catch while wearing sneakers.
That big gray walking boot was in front of his locker, not needed.
“I’ve been playing catch for a few days,” Rodriguez told me when he returned to the clubhouse. “It feels pretty good.”
Rodriguez also said he hopes to start working off the mound if he gets cleared by a specialist, Dr. George Theodore, later this weekend. The exam is expected to be in the next few days. Until then, he will keep using the boot while away from the park.
“That looks pretty good, to see him walking around,” manager Alex Cora said. “But it doesn’t mean he’ll be ready in two weeks or whatever. We have to make sure.”
Still, the fact that Rodriguez is interested in keeping his arm in shape suggests he expects to return sooner than later. It’s also a sign he’s willing to push through some discomfort to accomplish that.
“It’s something that a lot of people in the clubhouse are talking about compared to last year with the knee issue,” Cora said. “He was, last year, very hesitant to do stuff and now it’s the other way around. He’s kind of pushing everybody and we have to [say], ‘Hey, man, slow it down.’
“His mind is in the right frame. He feels that this is going to happen, that he’s going to be part of this and I love that. But we have to wait; we still have to wait.”
This may be the best news the Red Sox get this week regardless of what happens before Monday’s trade deadline. Getting Rodriguez back, even in late August, will improve the rotation and create appealing options for the postseason bullpen.
Don’t forget, Rodriguez was 11-3 with a 3.44 ERA before the injury and the Red Sox won 16 of his 19 starts. It was a breakout season for a pitcher who once seemed content with being a No. 4 starter instead of fulfilling what has always been vast potential.
Even with Chris Sale on the staff, I’ve often thought Rodriguez will be the next Red Sox pitcher to throw a no-hitter. He can throw hard, change speeds, cut it or drop in a big curveball. There will come a night he puts it all together and it’ll be magic.
But that’s secondary to learning how to handle injuries and get through a season. Starting once every five games is essentially beating up your body, then taking four days to prepare to do the same thing again.
Cora sees it as a sign of maturity. At 25, Rodriguez is learning that it’s not necessary to feel perfect to pitch.
“Probably he learned a little bit from last year,” the manager said.
Being around pitchers such as Sale, Rick Porcello and David Price helps, too. Porcello in particular has taken on a mentorship role in pushing Rodriguez to be more than just a guy.
Rodriguez also knows what the Red Sox are doing is special and he needs to get his name back on the marquee.
“He wants to be part of this. If you’re a player and you’re hurt, everybody is trying to do their best to be part of this,” Cora said. “It’s good to see but we have to be smart, too.”
If Rodriguez can return in time to make four or five starts before the season ends, that’s enough to at least be in consideration for the playoff rotation.
A healthy and effective Rodriguez would give the Sox either a deeper rotation or bullpen in October, maybe both. Postseason pitching is all about having options and being able to change plans daily if needed. Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi and even Drew Pomeranz are all candidates to take on multi-faceted roles if needed.
“I just want to pitch,” Rodriguez said as he walked toward the trainer’s room without any sign of a limp. “Don’t count me out.”