E-Rod gets 18th W, nearing 3 career milestones

September 19th, 2019

BOSTON -- The official elimination of the Red Sox from postseason contention could come as soon as Friday, but it didn't happen on 's watch, and that was only fitting.

The lefty has been the one exceptional piece of Boston's starting rotation all season, and that was again the case Thursday as he moved closer to three career milestones.

Backed by another masterful effort that led the Red Sox to a 5-4 victory over the Giants at Fenway Park, Rodriguez notched his 18th victory while increasing his innings total to 191 1/3 and getting to 199 strikeouts.

Rodriguez has two more starts to get to 20 wins, 200 innings and 200 strikeouts. If the 20 wins and 200 K's seem more glamorous, the 200-inning mark is the one Rodriguez will find the most meaningful. The 26-year-old, who had been slowed by injuries the last three seasons, has gone to the post every turn for the entire season.

"I mean, at the beginning of the season, I was really thinking to go 200 innings," Rodriguez said. "That was all my goal this year, go 200 innings and make 30-plus starts, and I made the 30-plus [starts] already so now I'm looking for the 200 innings. The 200 strikeouts, that's something you can't control."

However, a 20-win season is something that sticks out on a pitcher's resume, and the Red Sox are doing all they can to help Rodriguez get there.

Manager Alex Cora has maneuvered his rotation down the stretch so Rodriguez goes every five days, even when his team has a day off mixed in.

"He can hold the workload," said Cora. "If he doesn't win that one [today], we'd probably make an adjustment. He's still got a shot, so he'll be ready for his next one in Texas, and I think we'll use the bullpen, obviously if they're rested, in those outings."

Rodriguez's quest for 20 came precariously close to ending with bullpen malfunctions in the eighth and ninth that trimmed Boston's 5-1 lead down to a run.

In fact, the bases were loaded with two strikes and two outs when Brandon Workman relied on a 3-2 curveball in the dirt to get Evan Longoria swinging to end the game. It was save No. 15 for Workman, who took pleasure in burying that final pitch to keep Rodriguez in the mix for 20 victories.

"He's had a hell of a season," Workman said. "I think he's knocking on the door of 200 innings as well. So if he can be 20 wins, 200 innings, that's benchmarks in two different areas for starters. So that would be incredible."

Rodriguez actually has been incredible of late. In his last seven starts, he has a 1.00 ERA. In 15 starts dating back to July 1, Rodriguez is 10-2 with a 2.21 ERA. Those are the numbers of an elite starter.

Over six innings, Rodriguez held the Giants to two hits and an unearned run, walking two and striking out 10.

"The backdoor cutter with two strikes, the changeup down and away, then he freezes you with the two-seam inside against righties," said Red Sox shortstop . "It's like he has a plan and has been able to execute it in all his starts. Especially me being DH today, seeing it on the TV, so I had a different kind of view. It was amazing how much the ball was moving."

To Rodriguez, most of his success has been a matter of health.

"I mean, like I said, the last couple of years have been injuries all the time," Rodriguez said. "This year, I feel really good. Workouts, bullpen [sessions], everything. It's been part of being healthy."

And also being more confident.

"I would say that I throw the pitches with purpose all the time and execute and have a really good plan with [pitching coach] Dana [LeVangie] and [catcher ]. Every time I go out there, just have a really good plan to see the lineup I'm going to face and throw the pitches with confidence," Rodriguez said. "That's the biggest change I've made this year."

Thanks to Rodriguez and an offense that struck for five runs in the first two innings against , the Red Sox at least avoided the indignity of getting eliminated at home.

"You see why he's good and his record is what it is. He's got good stuff, a four-pitch mix," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of Rodriguez. "It looks like the hitters have trouble just picking it up. We were late quite a bit today on the fastball. It looks like it played a little quicker than even what the numbers say."

With their elimination number at one, the Red Sox (80-72) start a four-game series against the Rays on Friday.