BALTIMORE -- The final month of the regular season was not the best of Nathan Eovaldi’s career.
Coming off a forearm strain that sidelined him for more than a month, Eovaldi allowed 21 earned runs and seven homers in 20 1/3 innings, posting a 9.30 ERA across his final six starts.
But postseason “Nasty Nate” still arrived when called upon, and he’ll be called upon again for Game 3 of the ALDS on Tuesday at Globe Life Field. The Rangers ace tossed 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball against the Rays in Texas’ Game 2 win in the AL Wild Card Series, lowering his career postseason ERA to 2.90 across 49 2/3 innings.
“He did a really nice job, and really his start before, early he was right on, hitting his spots and the stuff was where it normally was,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “We were very encouraged then.
“He's been through this, so I was not surprised to see how well he pitched against the Rays. He's always done a great job under pressure. What's important with him, he's healthy. He feels good. We got him up there as far as pitches, so he can go 100 pitches no problem. It's good to have him back, because we need him.”
Eovaldi will start in what will be the first home playoff game for the Rangers since 2016.
“When we're on the road, it's real important to try to keep [the crowd] out of the game as much as possible,” Eovaldi said. “Baltimore was bringing it [Saturday]. The crowd was in the entire game.
“It's going to be important again for us to bring that back home, but try not to do too much out there. It's hard to explain, you get that adrenaline, you get those emotions out there, you know how big of a moment it is. But it's almost trying to transfer that energy into more focus than trying to overthrow or overpower anybody at this point in the season.”
It's easy to see why Eovaldi was the ace of this staff for so long, despite his struggles in September. In his second All-Star season, the right-hander posted a 2.69 ERA before landing on the IL and valiantly filled the hole left at the top of the rotation when Jacob deGrom went down with UCL surgery.
Eovaldi said the key to his success, both in his Wild Card start against the Rays and earlier in the season before the injury, was his fastball command. When that pitch is working, both the cutter and splitter play off of it even better.
After a long road back from injury, Eovaldi now feels like his mechanics are in a good place to be able to put the team in a position to win.
And for as good as the Rangers’ offense has been all season long, the starting pitching and efficient bullpen has been what’s driven the club this postseason.
“I've been saying it all year, pitching wins championships, and if we can go out and pitch really well, we'll give ourselves a really good chance to win the ballgames,” Eovaldi said. “Our offense is unbelievable. Any time we can put up some runs early in the game, we feel like it's our job to be able to shut it down.”
Not so fun in the sun
Josh Sborz is no stranger to Camden Yards, having grown up in the Northern Virginia area and frequenting Orioles games in his youth, but there was something he didn’t see coming in his first postseason appearance at the park on Saturday afternoon.
The right-hander tallied two strikeouts in a scoreless seventh inning to help the Rangers’ bullpen hold down the fort in their 3-2 win over the Orioles in Game 1 of the ALDS. Sborz opened the outing with seven consecutive balls: four to walk leadoff batter Aaron Hicks and another three to Adam Frazier before battling back and drawing a flyout to right field with his sixth pitch of the at-bat.
Sborz shared on Sunday ahead of Game 2 that there was a very specific reason for that.
“There was good sun coming down through the gaps in the third tier of the stadium,” Sborz said, “and the first two minutes I could not see a thing.”
So how did Sborz respond?
“Honestly, I was just trying to stall as long as I could,” Sborz said. “Blue eyes and sun don’t really go too good together.”
It was an unconventional method, but it worked out for Sborz, as he then punched out Cedric Mullins and pinch-hitter Ryan O’Hearn to complete the clean frame.