When asked pregame what he was looking for from starter Nathan Eovaldi, Red Sox manager Alex Cora rattled off a simple list: pound the strike zone, mix his pitches and give ‘em six innings.
That might sound like a pretty normal request, but nothing has been normal for Boston’s rotation of late. Entering Monday, Red Sox starters were 0-4 with a 12.00 ERA, 10 home runs allowed and a .400 opponent batting average in their past six games. Their last win came courtesy of Eovaldi on June 4.
Naturally, it was Eovaldi who produced the pick-me-up performance, and Rafael Devers who delivered the winning hit in the Red Sox's 2-1 walk-off win over the Blue Jays at Fenway Park. Eovaldi even exceeded his manager’s hopes, tossing 6 2/3 innings of scoreless, three-hit ball.
Steady starting pitching has carried the Red Sox through most of the year. They rank third in the Majors in starts of five-plus innings (54 in 67 games) despite having been unable to hit that threshold in four of their past seven.
Dependably deep starts have a trickle-down effect for teams: It usually means the pitcher is having some success, and it reduces stress on the bullpen.
“Whenever we get on a good streak, it starts with good pitching,” Eovaldi said. “If you look back to the previous ones, all the starters, we were all rolling together. I think it takes one starter to go out there and do a great job, and it kind of resets everybody.”
Thanks in large part to Eovaldi’s efforts, the Red Sox enter their next series with six of eight relievers coming off at least two days of rest. And Eovaldi was efficient on Monday -- throwing just 81 pitches (55 strikes) -- so he likely would’ve gone deeper if not for the bit of trouble he worked into during the seventh.
Eovaldi glided through the first six innings with ease, allowing two baserunners in the fourth and nothing more. Then in the seventh, with Boston leading 1-0, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Teoscar Hernández reached on singles with none out. After a mound visit, Boston’s flame-throwing righty went to his offspeed stuff, coaxing a routine double-play ball on a slider.
Left-handed hitter Rowdy Tellez was due up next, so Cora went to lefty reliever Josh Taylor, who fanned Tellez and stranded Guerrero on third to end the threat.
Eovaldi had done enough by then to provide the “reset” for the rotation that he’d hoped for. Monday served as a nice bounce-back for him, too, after he allowed five runs on 11 hits against Houston on Wednesday.
“It was definitely a big one,” Eovaldi said. “Our bullpen was down a little bit. So for me to be able to come in and get past the sixth inning and give the team a chance to win, it was a big one for us.”
With high splitter usage (22 percent, versus his season average of 10.7 percent) and a well-located four-seamer, Eovaldi ducked hard contact all night. Only six balls in play against him exceeded the 95 mph mark, and none of those went for hits or had an expected batting average of over .500.
The hardest-hit ball of the night was Guerrero’s game-tying home run with two outs in the ninth off closer Matt Barnes. Fortunately for Boston, the heart of its lineup responded in the bottom half, with Devers providing the decisive RBI single to score Alex Verdugo.
The Red Sox took a couple of big losses in this series, but they ended on a winning note (thanks to Devers) and the rotation has something positive to build off of (thanks to Eovaldi). Boston walks away with a minus-17 run differential, but also a 2-2 split, which is definitely more important.
“If you lose, you lose,” Cora said. “If you win it, you win it. We just earned a split against them. And like I told you guys, the run differential is gonna be negative-whatever. But we earned a split. They didn’t gain ground on us, we didn’t lose ground on them. And now we go to Atlanta.”