MINNEAPOLIS — The definition of a quality start is six or more innings with no more than three earned runs. Eduardo Rodriguez did not meet that standard against the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday night.
The Red Sox will respectfully disagree.
A night after they used nine pitchers in a 17-inning game, Rodriguez gave the Sox exactly what they needed by pitching seven innings and walking off the mound with a two-run lead.
The Sox turned that into a 9-4 victory against the Twins and a series victory against a team that had the best record in baseball and was playing at home.
Rodriguez allowed four runs on eight hits and three walks. But he struck out nine, retired the final nine batters he faced and threw 72 of 111 pitches for strikes.
Sometimes you have no choice. Sox manager Alex Cora said Rodriguez was staying in the game no matter how many runs he gave up. The Sox had to rest most of their relievers after the marathon game the night before.
“It was a matter or him giving us a chance to win or giving up a lot of runs,” the manager said. “I think he likes giving us a chance to win.”
Rodriguez laughed when he heard that after the game.
“Oh, I knew,” he said. “I had to keep pitching.”
With the Sox leading, 3-2, Rodriguez allowed solo home runs by Willians Astudillo and Max Kepler in the fourth inning. But he set down 11 of the next 12 batters, allowing only a single in the fifth inning.
That gave the Sox a chance come back against Twins starter Kyle Gibson and reliever Sean Poppen.
“I made two mistakes on the home runs, the only mistakes I made all night,” Rodriguez said. “After I gave up the four runs, I know what [his teammates] can do. When they hit, they hit. I know how it is. I tried to keep the game close and we won the game.”
Rodriguez has had only a fleeting relationship with reliability in his career. But he came through on this road trip.
He went seven innings and 114 pitches against Baltimore on Friday a day after the Sox used seven relievers against the Texas Rangers when David Price couldn’t get through the sixth inning.
Then he did the job against the Twins, overcoming a rocky start to the game.
“We needed him,” Cora said.
Rodriguez, at 26, gets that some nights it’ll be a grind and you can’t get frustrated.
“It means a lot to save the bullpen, to go out there and give them seven innings,” he said. “For me that’s something I’ve been trying to do a long time. I feel really good with that.”
The Sox actually intended to send Rodriguez out for the eighth inning but they as scrapped that idea when they scored three runs in the top of the inning.
Wednesday marked only the second time in his five-year career that Rodriguez went seven or more innings in consecutive starts. The first time was May 28 and June 3, 2015. Those were the first two starts of his career.
The Red Sox have won 11 of the 15 games Rodriguez has started this season despite his 4.71 earned run average. Run support obviously has played a role in that, but Rodriguez also has learned how to self-correct in games, something that has eluded him in the past.
Wednesday night was a good example of that. Rodriguez threw 69 fastballs and 28 changeups, giving up on his slider and cutter after the early innings.
“He was more aggressive on the edges of the strike zone,” Cora said. “He found his four-seamer halfway through the game. He was relentless again, fastballs up and changeups down.”
Said Rodriguez: “It depends who I’m facing. I was throwing my fastball right where I wanted it. I was able to execute the pitch. The velocity was pretty good. It was the best fastball I’ve had all season.”
At 41-35, the Red Sox return home only three games behind Tampa Bay for second place in the American League East and a half-game ahead of the Rangers for the second wild card.
Their slow start has been overcome. The schedule through the All-Star break plays in their favor and the Sox could make a move.
Rodriguez should play a large role in that. His 86 innings trail only Rick Porcello (87⅔ ) and Chris Sale (90⅓ ) on the staff.
“We expect great things out of him,” Cora said. “We know the talent and the stuff. It’s just a matter of putting everything together.”