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E-Rod dominates in spring tuneup

@IanMBrowne
March 11, 2020

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Red Sox interim manager Ron Roenicke isn’t ready to announce who his Opening Day starter is just yet. But he already knows. In fact, he already told the pitcher. Roenicke even invited reporters to “figure out the math and kind of see who is going to

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Red Sox interim manager Ron Roenicke isn’t ready to announce who his Opening Day starter is just yet. But he already knows. In fact, he already told the pitcher.

Roenicke even invited reporters to “figure out the math and kind of see who is going to be that Opening Day guy.”

A media member then asked, “Is he pitching tonight?”

As the room broke into laughter, Roenicke quipped, “You’ve already done the math.”

The math shows that Eduardo Rodriguez, who was dominant again in a 3-1 win over the Rays on Wednesday night, will get the ball for the Red Sox when they open their season on March 26 at Toronto.

Factoring in a five-day progression going forward, Rodriguez will tune up by facing the Pirates on Monday and the Orioles on March 21.

Rodriguez looked more than up for the task of an Opening Day nod with his performance against the Rays. Over four shutout innings, he scattered six hits and issued one walk while striking out 10.

The only disadvantage to all the strikeouts is it jacked Rodriguez’s pitch count up to 80 pitches, preventing him from going a fifth inning.

Rodriguez has a 1.64 ERA over three Grapefruit League outings. It will be no surprise when Roenicke officially tabs E-Rod for the honor. The lefty is coming off a breakout 2019 season (19-6, 3.81 ERA, 213 strikeouts), and he is the natural choice to replace Chris Sale, who will open the season on the injured list.

The way things are lining up, righty Nathan Eovaldi will pitch the second game in Toronto and Martín Pérez will get the nod in the third game.

Due to the absence of Sale and the other vacancy in the rotation created by the trade of David Price, the Red Sox still don’t know who their fourth and fifth starters will be.

They could use an opener for at least one of those spots.

Lucroy getting in swing
The competition for the backup catching spot continues to be heated, especially now that non-roster invitee Jonathan Lucroy is getting his timing down.

The veteran went 2-for-2 on Wednesday to boost his average to .300.

“Yeah, I’m seeing the ball good and I’ve been able to see the ball deep and I’ve been able to put good swings on it and make good decisions,” Lucroy said. “I’m definitely feeling a lot better.”

The player he is battling with -- Kevin Plawecki -- went 1-for-2 and is hitting .400.

“That’s a nice little battle we have going on,” Roenicke said. “But both of them look great. [Lucroy is] catching better. He looks good on [one] knee. Plawecki, he’s doing a good job at the plate and has been playing well behind the plate too.”

Off-day a workday for some
Though Thursday marks the only off-day on the Spring Training schedule for the Red Sox, not all players will be off.

To stay on schedule for the start of the season, Eovaldi will throw five innings in a simulated game at the Fenway South complex. Closer Brandon Workman will also get some work in, along with lefties Darwinzon Hernandez and Josh Osich.

Roenicke not worried about paper champs
Roenicke knows that nearly all prognosticators will pick the Yankees and Rays first and second in some order atop the American League East.

But even with Sale’s uncertainty, Roenicke likes the makeup of the team he will bring into the season.

“Well, we know they’re really good. They are,” Roenicke said of the Yankees. “They’re a well-rounded team, and they’ve got great players. We feel we have great players.

“And I know Tampa Bay has a really good team, and they’re picked over us. And I don’t want to say it’s not wrong to pick it that way, but we still have great players. We know if everything comes together we can compete with anybody.

“That’s the way our guys feel and the way we go about it. Preseason predictions are sometimes right on. Sometimes they’re quite a bit off. I understand that’s part of it. We’re OK with that. We’ll see what we can do to change that.”

Up next
Following Thursday’s off-day, the Red Sox return home on Friday to host the Rays. Martín Pérez is expected to make the start for Boston. Expect most of the Sox regulars to be in the starting lineup, including Andrew Benintendi and J.D. Martinez. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET (listen live on Gameday Audio).

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.