Xander Bogaerts looked up at the scoreboard in the fifth inning on Wednesday night and noticed for the first time that Eduardo Rodriguez had yet to allow a hit against the Detroit Tigers.
“Eddie kind of sneaks up on you,” Bogaerts said. “A guy like [Chris] Sale, he strikes everybody out. But Eddie is quiet. Then you realize the other team doesn’t have any hits.”
Rodriguez finally gave up a hit with one out in the fifth inning, a single by Gordon Beckham. He cruised through six innings, giving up one run on two hits in a game the Sox went on to win, 11-4.
The Red Sox have not had a no-hitter since May 19, 2008, when 24-year-old Jon Lester diced up the Kansas City Royals at Fenway Park. Don’t be surprised when Rodriguez throws the next one. It’s coming.
This is no hot sports take; it’s based on evidence. Rodriguez threw five pitches that produced swinging strikes against the Tigers, 18 of them in all. He leaned on his fastball but liberally worked in his slider and changeup along with a few cutters and sinkers.
Rodriguez has so many good options that on a given night, anything is possible.
“If he keeps his pitch count down, I can see it,” Bogaerts said. “He makes it look easy sometimes.”
Rodriguez carried a no-hitter against Oakland for 7⅔ innings on Sept. 4, 2016. It was broken up when Marcus Semien hit a ball off his right foot that went for an infield single.
Earlier that season, on Aug. 16 in Baltimore, Rodriguez no-hit the Orioles for four innings before a sore hamstring ended his night. He looked untouchable in that game.
It’s true that Rodriguez has yet to throw more than eight innings in a game. But that was the case for Lester before he no-hit the Royals.
“I’ve always said anything is possible for him,” catcher Christian Vazquez said. “The way he pitched [Wednesday] was great. That slider was amazing.”
The slider was a pitch Rodriguez started to tinker with during spring training. But it wasn’t until a few days ago that he gained more confidence in the pitch when Dustin Pedroia showed him a different grip.
“I was sitting on the bench with him and he told me, ‘Hey, you want to see a nasty breaking ball?’ I said, ‘Yeah,’ ” Rodriguez said.
Pedroia showed Rodriguez a grip he used in high school and Rodriguez worked on it with bullpen catcher Mani Martinez for a few days. He tried it with the first batter of the game, Jeimer Candelario, and got a foul ball.
Rodriguez threw the new pitch 16 times in all. It wasn’t a pitch that overwhelmed the Tigers but it had them on the defensive.
“I have to say thank you to [Pedroia],” Rodriguez said. “It went right where I wanted.”
Detroit used seven righthanded hitters and two switch-hitters against Rodriguez. That’s why the slider made sense.
“Everybody’s looking for the fastball and changeup on the outside part of the plate,” manager Alex Cora said. “For him to be able to expand the [strike] zone down and in to righties, it was a good pitch for him.”
In a rotation that features Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, and Nathan Eovaldi, Rodriguez is the little brother who trails along. He has never been an All-Star, won any awards, and gets sent to the bullpen for the playoffs.
Rodriguez has been more promise than production since he was acquired from the Baltimore Orioles in 2014. Then nights like Wednesday pop up and remind you what the scouts saw.
“I’m hard on him. But everybody is because we know how good he can be,” Cora said.
Rodriguez, like all of the Sox starters outside of Price, started the season poorly. But he has allowed six earned runs over 18 innings in his last three starts and struck out 21.
The Sox are 3-2 in the games he has started and one of the losses was by one run.
“Stuff-wise, really good. In command of the situation, getting people out in the strike zone, mixing up his pitches, location. He’s been good for us,” Cora said. “He’s good. We know the stuff; everybody knows it.”
Rodriguez admitted he has always believed he could throw a no-hitter. But the only time he thought it was possible was that game in Oakland.
“Maybe someday,” he said. “We just need to win games right now any way we can. But in the back of my mind, I know I can do it. Every pitcher wants to do it, even if they don’t say it. I’ll admit it, I think I could someday.”