Eovaldi trying to build late-season momentum

Betts, Devers reach milestones at the plate in loss

September 11th, 2019

TORONTO -- Barring a miracle, there will be no October heroics for this year. Instead, the flame-throwing righty is just trying to finish his disjointed season with some momentum he can take into the offseason.

Given the right elbow injury and subsequent right biceps tendinitis that kept him out for three months and then forced a temporary shift to the bullpen once he returned, it hasn’t been easy.

But of late, Eovaldi has provided flashes of the pitcher the Red Sox need him to be over the final three seasons of the four-year, $68 million deal he signed last offseason. In Boston’s 4-3 loss to the Blue Jays on Tuesday night at Rogers Centre, Eovaldi allowed six hits and three runs over 4 1/3 innings, walking two and striking out six.

The reason Eovaldi didn’t have a better night was simple: His splitter failed him.

Eovaldi didn’t generate any swings and misses among the 13 he threw. There were no called strikes either. But there was a home run -- a solo rocket on a flat split by Reese McGuire that gave the Blue Jays a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the fourth.

“I think what got me in trouble was just not being able to navigate with my splitter,” said Eovaldi. “It felt real inconsistent and ultimately it caused me not to get outs in those situations.”

There’s a reason Eovaldi’s splitter is more vital to his success this season than in others, and assistant pitching coach Brian Bannister explained it.

“The splitter is the X-factor for him. He’s not throwing the slider this year because it puts a little strain on his elbow,” said Bannister. “So the splitter is his big swing-and-miss pitch. A lot of how dominant and how pitch-efficient his starts are correlated to the splitter.”

The good news for Eovaldi is that he got to 93 pitches, his highest total since April 17 -- his last start before the elbow injury. The bad news is that he recorded only 13 outs in those pitches.

“I thought his direction was good,” said Bannister. “He had good ride to the fastball. When the splitter is on, hitters have to respect it and it opens up the swing-and-miss on his fastball.”

Eovaldi actually left the mound on a high note, striking out Vladimir Guerrero Jr. on a 2-2 curveball for the first out of the fifth inning. In fact, he departed with a 3-2 lead.

Lefty lost the lead in just three pitches, serving up a two-run homer to Rowdy Tellez, who has been a Red Sox destroyer all season.

“We didn’t keep the ball in the ballpark. When you don’t do that, you pay the price at this level,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora after his team’s fourth loss in a row.

As for Eovaldi, he induced 13 swings and misses, eight of them on fastballs. There was also a 97.5-mph heater in the dead center of the plate that Cavan Biggio walloped for a solo homer.

“Overall I felt pretty good,” Eovaldi said. “I felt like tonight was one of my best nights of fastball command other than the one to Biggio.”

There is still time for Eovaldi to have that dominant start that has been elusive for him this season. He will probably take three more turns in the rotation.

Finishing strong going into the winter could pay big dividends for Eovaldi going forward.

“Absolutely,” Eovaldi said. “Any time you can finish on a high note going into the offseason, it makes a little easier. We’ll get there. As of right now, I thought I did a lot of good things tonight, it’s just the splitter.”

Mookie provides early jolt

Eovaldi was at least able to pitch with an early lead when hammered the first pitch of the game for a homer. It is the second time in the last week that Betts has ripped a leadoff shot in the first on the first pitch. It was the 20th leadoff homer of his career.

When Betts puts the ball in play on 0-0 counts this season, he is hitting .375 (18-for-48) with eight homers and 17 RBIs.

It is clear that Betts has regained his confidence at the plate of late, and it manifests itself when he attacks early in the count.

“Just trying to be aggressive in general, so just trying to put a good swing on a good pitch and see what happens,” said Betts. “I think I’ve put in a lot of work and I’ve finally found a little something that I can maintain, so just trying to ride it.”

Despite the early momentum from Betts, Boston’s offense mostly dried up for the rest of the night. The exception was a two-run fifth that included the 50th double of the season from . The 22-year-old is the eighth player in team history to reach 50 doubles, but he is the youngest to achieve the feat.