Cutter key to latest CG for 'locked in' Eovaldi

Rangers right-hander baffles Bucs over 9 strong frames to give bullpen a night off

May 24th, 2023

PITTSBURGH -- What does it feel like to expect a complete game every time a pitcher takes the mound?

The Rangers feel like they’re beginning to find out.

For the second time in a month, went nine innings, allowing one run on six hits and a walk to anchor a 6-1 series-evening win over the Pirates on Tuesday night at PNC Park.

Over his past five outings, Eovaldi has averaged 8 1/3 innings with a 0.86 ERA. To say he’s been amazing feels like an understatement.

“He’s just in such a good groove,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “It’s fun to see really good pitchers that get really locked in.”

Against the Bucs, Eovaldi allowed the most hits of any outing over his impressive stretch dating back to his first complete game for the Rangers -- a shutout of the Yankees on April 29 -- but the key to going the distance was managing to stay out of laborious innings.

Though Texas’ bullpen has been handed a fair share of tough showings, Eovaldi hasn’t necessarily been relied upon to give the relievers a night off. Bochy knows how much of a workhorse Eovaldi can be, easily able to clear 100 pitches when he’s going strong, but he’s not afraid to take Eovaldi out sooner than later.

Take Eovaldi’s shortest outing in the five-start span. He lasted seven innings on Wednesday in Atlanta, and by the end of it, he had completed 93 pitches. But he walked two batters in the final frame, and Bochy wasn’t taking any chances.

“We do have to take care of these guys,” Bochy said. “We think they’re getting taxed? Then they have to come out. We’re not going to shy away from taking them out just because we’re bumping the road in the bullpen. We have to do what’s right.”

Yet recently, more times than not, leaving Eovaldi in has been the right call.

Eovaldi credits his mechanics as having an outsized influence on what he’s been able to do. When he’s in a good slot, his fastball moves with the life he wants, which allows the splitter to play off it to devastating effect.

“When you have the fastball that he does and the split works off it, it gives you a ton of trouble,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “We didn’t get many good swings off him."

Against a disciplined team like the Pirates, who opposing pitchers have learned do not like to expand the strike zone too often, the cutter played a big role, too, for the rare times Eovaldi fell behind in the count.

“I knew coming in that they were going to be really selective when it was 0-2, that they weren’t going to chase too much,” Eovaldi said. “That’s one of the nice things about having the cutter, is I’m able to stick that in there with the splitter and get some early outs.”

Entering his first complete game this season, Eovaldi had endured a bit of a tale of two seasons with respect to the results. His ERA was inflated in the four turns to 5.40, but a look at the underlying numbers between the two parts of his season makes it a little more clear that he’s been trending toward a strong season.

“It is fair to say he’s been on top of his game the last three or four starts, with the command and everything,” Bochy said before Tuesday’s win, “but he had some tough luck. He was our tough-luck guy.”

Now, Eovaldi is one of the toughest starters to crack in all of baseball. Even he admits he’s never been on a roll quite like this. The closest he’s felt to this was in 2018, when he was a postseason hero for the Red Sox with a 1.61 ERA and his valiant six-inning relief appearance in Game 3 of the World Series, which helped save the bullpen in an 18-inning game before Boston took the title.

If there’s such a thing as a regular-season hero, Eovaldi’s playing it right now.

“I feel like I’m really locked in,” he said. “We’re staying on top of the mechanics and the little things and making sure we’re doing the [daily] work.”

“I think it sends a sense of confidence throughout the club when he’s out there,” Bochy said. “Obviously, it’s the game itself that he pitches so well in, but it’s what he brings, too, is the presence, the energy. He plays with a lot of fire. You love that about him.”