LAKELAND, Fla. — At Dave Dombrowski’s introduction with the Red Sox in August 2015, the president of baseball operations suggested that his new team needed to add a front-of-the-rotation starter, but also took note of one of the pitchers the team already had.
“He’s got a chance to be a No. 1 type pitcher,” Dombrowski said at the time.
Dombrowski’s statement was about Eduardo Rodriguez. Three-and-a-half years later, Rodriguez hasn’t fulfilled such visions, but this spring, the 25-year-old (he turns 26 next month) has given the Sox hope that he may be poised to take another step in his career.
On Thursday, Rodriguez continued a strong spring with five innings in which he allowed three runs on three hits, walking two and striking out eight. His execution faltered in a three-run second inning, but he was efficient, worked to both sides of the plate while steering clear of the middle, and showed a four-pitch mix (fastball, change, cutter, and a distinct slider) he used with purpose.
“He looks like a different guy right now. He wants to be on the mound, wants to compete, and wants to win every pitch,” said catcher Sandy Leon. “He was locating his pitches very well. His command was very good. The tempo of the game was quicker . . . He looks ready now. He looks like he knows what he’s doing.”
Manager Alex Cora praised Rodriguez’s pitch efficiency. The lefty was at 61 pitches through four innings, and faced a 75-pitch limit. The Sox challenged him to finish the inning in 14 pitches. Rodriguez breezed through it in 15.
“He understands. He knows that five [innings] is not enough,” Cora said of the pitch efficiency. “He knows it and he’s working hard at it.”
Where that takes Rodriguez remains to be seen. But the fact that Rodriguez has not yet fulfilled Dombrowski’s hopes doesn’t rule out the possibility that he still has a chance to make considerable progress. Breakthroughs don’t happen on a fixed schedule.
“Every pitcher is different, every pitcher’s development is different, their growth is different. There is no specific timeframe,” Dombrowski said on Thursday, while offering a reasonable note of caution about the dangers of reaching conclusions from spring training performance. “I like what we’ve seen [from Rodriguez]. His stuff is good. He continues to develop.”
Pearce breaks out
Steve Pearce, who attended Lakeland High School, received a sizable round of applause both when he first stepped to the plate and again when he launched a pair of homers to left — one a towering two-run homer in the fourth inning, the other a solo shot in the sixth. Pearce, who received a Lakeland Dreadnaughts jersey prior to the game, said he was relieved to get his first hits of the spring after an 0-for-11 start entering the game. “I was getting a little worried there for a minute,” said Pearce. “It just feels good to finally get like a rhythm. For my first couple of games, timing wasn’t there. Mechanics weren’t there. Kind of just clueless at the plate. Now, the last couple of days, starting with [batting practice], everything is starting to feel a lot better.” . . . While fellow Lakeland native Chris Sale did not make the trip, his father, Allen, took in the game from a seat adjacent to the Red Sox dugout . . . Righthander Heath Hembree made his first Grapefruit League appearance an impressive one, striking out the side while topping out at 94 miles per hour. Righthander Brandon Workman’s velocity rebounded in a scoreless inning of work, as his fastball was 90-91 m.p.h. after being in the high-80s in recent appearances . . . Dave Meter, the agent for free agent closer Craig Kimbrel, attended the Red Sox-Tigers game and crossed paths briefly with Dombrowski following the game. Meter declined to say anything about Kimbrel.
Marco Hernandez (0 for 3), J.D. Martinez (0 for 3, walk), Dustin Pedroia (0 for 2, three innings at second base), and Christian Vazquez (3 for 5) all played in minor league games on the back fields at Fenway South on Thursday. Martinez, who was scratched from a Grapefruit League game on Wednesday due to back tightness, could play in Tampa Bay against the Yankees on Friday if he doesn’t have a setback and wants to make the trip. Pedroia is expected to get the next two days off before playing as many as five innings on Sunday . . . Fenway Park will host the Baseball Beanpot, featuring Boston College, Harvard, Northeastern, and UMass, on April 17. General admission tickets, all priced at $10, are available at redsox.com/beanpot. Proceeds will benefit the Pete Frates #3 Fund.