FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Super Bowl champion Patriots had not yet returned from Atlanta on Monday when a dozen Red Sox players gathered at JetBlue Park for an informal workout.
Back in Boston, the vaunted Sox equipment truck left Fenway Park headed this way.
“It’s our turn now,” Chris Sale said.
Pitchers and catchers do not officially report until Feb. 12 but the Sox already have their entire rotation in camp. The quest to repeat as World Series champions has taken its first steps.
“It’s awesome,” righthander Nathan Eovaldi said. “Great fans, all the success, it’s unbelievable. The Patriots winning is great for us. It makes us want to do the same thing again.”
Eovaldi joined the Red Sox last July, traded from the Tampa Bay Rays into the heat of a pennant race. He was 3-3 with a 3.33 earned run average in 12 games before appearing in six postseason games and allowing only four earned runs over 22⅓ innings.
The Sox won five of the playoff games Eovaldi appeared in, but the one loss, in Game 3 of the World Series, earned him a place in history.
Eovaldi threw 97 pitches over six innings of relief in an 18-inning game, taking the loss when Max Muncy homered. His effort helped inspire the Sox to win the next two games and take the Series.
Eovaldi, who has twice had Tommy John surgery, said he was ready to pitch in Game 5 if needed.
“I felt fine. But it was all a new experience for me, getting home a month later after winning the World Series,” Eovaldi said. “Trying to get the right rest, not rush too much and come to spring training ready to go. The Red Sox have stayed in contact the entire time and that really helped.”
As players start to gather, one undercurrent here and at other camps will be the increasingly rancorous relationship between labor and management.
Two free agents in their prime, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, remain unsigned and there has been no reported interest in All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel, who recorded 42 regular-season saves for the Red Sox a year ago.
The same is true for players like Gio Gonzalez, Dallas Keuchel, and Marwin Gonzalez.
That Eovaldi signed a four-year, $67.5-million deal with the Red Sox on Dec. 6 looks like a better decision with each passing day. His agents, Sam and Seth Levinson, read the market correctly.
“My time here after I got traded was the most fun I’ve had playing baseball,” Eovaldi said. “I wanted to come back. I told my agency I didn’t want to be one of those guys waiting. I wanted to get it done quickly. I feel very fortunate.”
Eovaldi got to know Alex Cobb during his time with Tampa Bay and watched a successful pitcher go unwanted in free agency last winter before signing with the Baltimore Orioles only a few days before the season.
Cobb then went 5-15 with a 4.90 ERA for a team that lost 115 games.
“He had to wait the entire time,” Eovaldi said. “I didn’t want that to happen. It worked out and I couldn’t be happier.”
Eovaldi, 28, has already played for five teams, the result of three trades. He’s looking forward to putting down some roots with the Sox.
“I tried to get to know as many people as I could last year. To come in now, starting fresh from the start of spring training will be even better. I’m looking forward to it.”
Based on adjusted ERA, Eovaldi has been about an average pitcher for his career. Conventional statistics — he is 44-53 with a 4.16 ERA and 1.35 WHIP — suggest the same.
But the Sox believe last season was a sign of what Eovaldi is capable of.
“He has dominating stuff,” said president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, also an early arrival. “I think he’s learning to pitch with that more and more all the time. You see a lot of starting pitchers that it takes some time to use their stuff to the best of their abilities. We think he has found the ability to do that.”
Along with Eovaldi and Sale, Matt Barnes, Colten Brewer, a trimmer Rafael Devers, Tzu-Wei Lin, Austin Maddox, Rick Porcello, David Price, Eduardo Rodriguez, Sam Travis, and Marcus Walden were at the complex on Monday.
More players are expected in Tuesday. Second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who is recovering from two surgeries on his left knee, should arrive on or around Feb. 16.
“He’s been running. He’s been working out in Arizona; he’s been feeling good,” Dombrowski said. “He’s coming into camp with the positional players. We’re hopeful that when he comes here he’ll be able to go at a pace where he’s preparing for the season.
“That’s the way we’re looking at it. But I don’t think we’ll really know until he gets here and has to go day-in and day-out and get the activity at second base. But so far, so good.”