BOSTON -- Four years ago at this time of year, Nathan Eovaldi was getting ready to punch his ticket into Red Sox postseason lore with an October that helped vault his team to a World Series championship.
Thursday represented a much different time for the man referred to as “Nasty Nate.”
Eovaldi, making his return from his second stint on the injured list this season, might be in his final days with the Red Sox.
Though his arm strength wasn’t at 100 percent given the time he has missed this season -- “I don’t want any questions about his velocity after the game,” manager Alex Cora said before the game -- the veteran leader turned in the type of dependable performance that has defined his time in Boston.
Over 4 2/3 innings and 72 pitches (51 strikes), Eovaldi held a tough offensive club to two runs (one earned) on five hits. He walked none and struck out three and took a no decision in his team’s 5-3 win over the Orioles.
“I felt really good today, and I feel like typically you can kind of feel if you’re going to be sore or not coming out of it, and I feel really good coming out of this one today and building for this next start,” Eovaldi said. “I like the way I’m heading into the offseason and the way I’m finishing up.”
Cora removed Eovaldi mid-inning, giving the Fenway fans a chance to give him a nice hand as he walked back to the dugout.
“He was good,” said Cora. “Obviously he was on a pitch limit, but he used his fastball where he had to, the offspeed pitches were good and he gave us a chance to win. He’ll be OK. One more and a normal offseason and he should be OK for next year.”
This was Eovaldi’s 19th start of the season and No. 20 -- the last one -- should come on Oct. 4 at Fenway in the penultimate game of the season against the Rays.
“That’s why I was pushing to be able to make it back for at least two more starts, and be able to time it up to where I’d be able to pitch at home,” said Eovaldi. “It means a lot to me to be able to come out here and pitch in front of our fans and of course be able to put on the Red Sox uniform and go out there and compete. Again, that’s why it was a big focus of mine of just making sure I stayed within my mechanics and I didn’t rush on the mound.”
This offseason, the 32-year-old will be a free agent. The last time that happened, the Red Sox re-signed him to a four-year, $68 million deal coming off that glorious postseason run.
It seems far less certain Eovaldi will be back with Boston this time around, though he would definitely be in favor of it.
The Red Sox have a lot of moving parts this winter, so it’s hard to know which players they will push to retain.
What is clear is the mutual respect Eovaldi and the Red Sox have for each other. Eovaldi has embraced pitching in Boston since his arrival in July of 2018, and he has been one of the team’s most active players in the community.
“It’s been incredible,” Eovaldi said. “When I signed the contract [after ‘18], it was to come in and win [more] World Series championships. Last year, we were two games away from being back over there in the World Series. The year prior, dealing with COVID and all that, obviously disappointing -- and obviously this year as well with the injuries -- but I’ve loved every minute of being over here and putting on the uniform and hopefully there’s more to come.”