After year away, E-Rod has successful return

Cora: 'Just happy he's going to be on the mound'

March 5th, 2021

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It had been 359 days since Eduardo Rodriguez had gone through his gameday routine, and he had the nerves to tell him it had been that long.

But these were good nerves -- the type you only feel when you get back to doing what it is you love most.

Rodriguez’s Grapefruit League debut in Friday’s eventual 6-5 win over the Rays at JetBlue Park was something that meant everything to him after not pitching for all of 2020 due to an inflammatory heart condition called myocarditis.

Let the record show that Rodriguez pitched 2 2/3 inning against the Rays, giving up two hits and one run while walking none and striking out two on 46 pitches.

Let the reality know that the line score meant nothing.

Just pitching again was all that mattered.

Rodriguez mentioned to his close friend and long-time batterymate Christian Vázquez the sensations that were going through his body as he got closer to the first pitch.

“When I went out there with Vazqy, we were by the bullpen warming up and I told him, ‘Bro, I feel chills. I feel all that right now. Like I’m making my MLB debut right now,’” Rodriguez said. “And he told me, ‘No, don’t worry. That’s part of it.’ I feel that every start, but today was a little bit more exciting.”

It was equally exciting for Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who shares a close bond with Rodriguez and takes pride in how much he has matured over the last few years.

“Honestly, the results don't really matter today. I'm just happy he's going to be on the mound,” Cora said before the game. “Just to see him out there is refreshing for everybody. We all know what happened last year. For him to be on the mound is a step towards the right direction.”

The last time Rodriguez pitched in a game before Friday was also against the Rays -- back on March 11, 2020. He was two weeks away from starting on Opening Day for the first time in his career.

But the next day, the sports world essentially shut down for months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In June, Rodriguez tested positive for COVID-19, which included symptoms that left him bedridden for days.

Just when he thought he was in the clear after arriving to Summer Camp a little late, Rodriguez got fatigued throwing a bullpen session and knew something was amiss.

Then came the myocarditis diagnosis and the news that his season had ended before it started. For a pitcher who was in his prime and had just come off a breakout 2019 season (19 wins, 213 strikeouts), the development was crushing.

But he put all his focus into recovering from the heart condition, and he did everything the Red Sox told him to do. At first, that meant nothing. Rodriguez couldn’t do anything that would elevate his heart rate, including normal exercise like taking walks.

“I just wanted that to run out of my body, that’s all that mattered to me, just thinking of taking that out of my body, take the rest and do what the doctor said,” said Rodriguez. “And thanks to God, we did it and you see we went out there for [almost three innings]. That’s all that mattered to me right now.”

Fortunately, his condition cleared just as the 2020 season was ending, and Rodriguez got back to life as he knew it and was able to have a normal offseason.

Friday marked the first big step toward making that start on Opening Day -- which will be April 1 at Fenway Park -- that he was supposed to make a year ago.

Chances are, all those nerves Rodriguez felt Friday will come rushing back to him all over again.

And he said there is no concern whatsoever that he’ll be ready to take the ball for the start of the 2021 season.

“I will say I’ll be 100 percent ready for any time AC gives me the ball,” Rodriguez said. “I’ll be 100 percent ready. Any game. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 -- I’ll be 100 percent.”

Which will be about 100 percent better than last year.