Notes: Eovaldi's improved slider; 2021 schedule

July 9th, 2020

BOSTON -- ’s quest to become one of the best bounce-back players on the Red Sox this season could be aided by his much-improved slider.

Eovaldi’s slider has been talked about quite a bit in the early days of Summer Camp, and he had it on full display Thursday, when he fired four dominant innings (one hit, no runs, one walk, four strikeouts) in an intrasquad scrimmage. Eovaldi threw a fifth inning in the bullpen afterward.

“I was trying to work on my slider a lot [during the shutdown],” he said. “I feel like it’s improved. ... It’s definitely helped having some quick outs for me. Earlier in spring, I was using it just at the beginning of counts. Today, I was using it when I was ahead, a couple of times when I was behind, and I was able to get swings and misses on it and get outs.”

With the Red Sox’s starting rotation looking thinner than it has in years, Eovaldi is one of the most important players on the team heading into this 60-game season.

Last year, he struggled with his health and command.

In Spring Training and Summer Camp, the flame-throwing righty has had no issues.

“He’s using all his pitches,” said manager Ron Roenicke. “I saw some good curveballs. The splits were good. He’s always got velocity. Really it’s him, making sure with that great stuff that he’s commanding the ball, not getting behind in the count too much, and then when he gets two strikes, throwing the ball where he wants to.

“Maybe it’s the fastball up or the curveball, splitter in the dirt. Those things take a little time. We know he’s got great stuff. It takes time to get that command. If you watch Nate, the history of Nate, when he has command, nobody hits him. Hopefully we get to that here, and we’ll see it during the season.”

’21 sked is out
Red Sox fans can start making plans for next season, as MLB released the full schedule for 2021 on Thursday.

The Sox will open at home against the Orioles on April 1. That three-game series will conclude on Easter Sunday. It will be the sixth time in 21 years that Boston will open at home. The first homestand of the season will end with a three-game series against the Rays.

The Interleague matchups will all be against the National League East. The Sox travel to four NL East cities (Mets, Phillies, Braves and Nationals). In addition, the season ends with a three-game series at Washington from Oct. 1-3.

The Braves, Marlins, Phillies and Mets are all scheduled to play at Fenway Park.

The Yankees make their first of three visits to Fenway for a three-game weekend series June 25-27. They’ll be back for a four-game set from June 22-25 and will make their final trip for the Sox's final three home games on Sept. 24-26. They meet at Yankee Stadium June 4-6, July 15-18 and Aug. 17-18.

Lucroy locked in
Non-roster invitee continues to make a strong case to make the team. The veteran catcher belted a line single to right against Eovaldi and later ripped a single to center in intrasquad action.

“He looks really good. He’s certainly calm at the plate like he’s always been, and a tough out,” Roenicke said.

The big strides Lucroy is making, now that he’s healthy again, is on defense.

“Behind the plate, I like what [Jason] Varitek’s doing with him,” Roenicke said. “He’s throwing the ball as good as I’ve ever seen him. He’s getting on a knee, looks like he’s blocking well from a knee. Everything looks good.”

Christian Vázquez is the unquestioned starter, while Lucroy is battling with Kevin Plawecki to be the backup. With a 30-man roster to start the season, it’s certainly possible the Red Sox will carry three catchers for the first couple of weeks.

“We’ve got really good depth in our catching, like you want to have, because you know how things can go,” Roenicke said. “If you lose one or two guys, you really need somebody who knows what they’re doing. We’ve got it covered well.”

Devers makes an appearance
Third baseman wasn’t at the ballpark for the start of the intrasquad game because he was awaiting results of the fourth COVID-19 test he’s had in the past few days. Devers is being tested so much because the Red Sox believed he was exposed to someone with the virus. Once Devers received a negative result for the fourth time, he arrived at Fenway for a couple of at-bats late in the scrimmage.

“I feel healthy,” Devers said. “It was tough at first, not knowing if potentially I had it, but luckily I had those negative tests that were taken and also just focused on working hard. So even though I was at Boston College [for workouts instead of Fenway], I took my training real serious, trying to just prepare myself to be ready back here.”

After having a monster season in 2019, Devers sees no reason why he can’t do it again in an abbreviated ’20.

“Now that it’s 60 games that we’re going to be playing, just trying to stay on top of my game,” Devers said. “I worked on my defense a lot, worked on my hitting a lot, as much as I could with everything that was being sent to me from the staff. Just trying to get ready, and now I’m 100 percent ready to go.”