ARLINGTON --When Rangers catcher Jonah Heim was named the American League starter in this year’s All-Star Game, he only had one thing to say about the potential starting pitcher: “Hopefully I’m catching [Nathan Eovaldi]."
The All-Star pitchers will be named on Sunday night, and on Saturday, Eovaldi made one final start to pad his résumé, ironically against AL manager Dusty Baker’s Astros.
It was an Eovaldi masterclass in front of a sellout crowd of 40,380 at Globe Life Field. The Rangers ace tossed seven scoreless innings on just two hits and five strikeouts, carrying Texas to a 5-2 win in a big AL West matchup against the Astros that evened the four-game series at one game apiece.
On the opposite end, the offense knocked around Astros starter Hunter Brown, tagging the rookie right-hander for three runs on 10 hits. The Rangers totaled 15 hits and could have blown the game open if they hadn’t gone 4-for-22 with runners in scoring position.
But Eovaldi was no doubt the star of the show.
And if he’s named to the All-Star squad, he’ll join Heim and three other Rangers -- Marcus Semien, Corey Seager and Josh Jung -- in Seattle for the Midsummer Classic.
“I mean it'd be a huge honor to be able to go out there,” Eovaldi said. “We've got four of our guys starting in the game. They've done an outstanding job this season, and all four of them had a great game today as well. To be able to go out there, and not only to be able to represent the Rangers but to be able to play alongside those guys would be a huge honor.”
The 33-year-old did everything in his power to prove he belongs there on Saturday.
The right-hander dominated the Astros’ lineup, facing just two over the minimum and not allowing a hit over his final five innings of work. He induced more double plays (3) than he allowed hits (2).
“He was good,” Baker said. “The thing about him is he throws ground balls. I think he threw up double plays every time we got something going. I noticed he’s leading the league in double plays. We just had the shortstop-itis.
“Between the third baseman and the shortstop, I don’t know how many outs [we hit into] … they probably had 10 combined. They had us played right, and we couldn't keep the ball off the ground. He was tough. He kept the ball down, in, out, mixed in his fastball with his slider and his split-finger. He threw a real good game against us.”
Coming off a June 25 start in New York where he felt like he wasn’t his best, Eovaldi made some mechanical adjustments to his arm path over the last week that helped him really utilize his pitch mix to its fullest potential.
Against the Astros, he used the four-seamer 29 percent of the time, which tracks with his season averages, but he threw the curveball 21 percent of the time, way more than his typical 12.8 percent. He added the cutter (19%), splitter (18%) and slider (14%) for a full five-pitch mix that kept Houston hitters on their toes for seven innings.
“Looking back at it, I feel like a lot of times I get too predictable out there,” he said. “Being able to rely on my splitter, my cutter, the curveball when I'm behind in counts to help me get back ahead in the count or just in the bat, I think that's helped me out a lot.
Eovaldi will likely get one more start before the All-Star break, but this is by far the best first half he’s produced in his career. Saturday’s outing lowered his ERA to 2.64 on the season. Before his first All-Star appearance in 2021, Eovaldi had a 3.66 ERA entering the break.
“I think you start with the stuff,” Bochy said of Eovaldi’s success. “He’s got a good fastball, big fastball, and then the cutter and curveball and splitter. He’s got the four-pitch mix. He'll go to both sides of the plate. He's got a game plan when he goes out there.
"But I think you have to look at the man himself. He's just a tough competitor. He's been through a lot of battles, not just during the season but postseason. It’s all the little things you like from a pitcher.”