Eovaldi, touching 99, ready to help anchor revamped rotation

March 18th, 2023

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- On days he doesn’t start,  makes it a point to watch the Rangers’ other starting pitchers in their Cactus League appearances. 

On Wednesday, he used an iPad to watch Dane Dunning toss five shutout innings against the Royals in a 4-3 win in Surprise. On Thursday, he watched Jon Gray throw four scoreless against the Dodgers in a 3-1 win at Camelback Ranch, though he watched on his phone from his house. He’ll no doubt find a way to watch Glenn Otto against the Angels on Saturday and Jacob deGrom against the Mariners on Sunday.

New to the organization, Eovaldi finds it helpful to get acclimated with his teammates so that he can help when and where he can. It’s a rotation with the depth and ceiling to be among the best in the American League, if you ask him.

“It's a completely new year and we’ve got a new rotation,” Eovaldi said Friday. “For me, everything is based on pitching. There's going to be those times when the offense is going to come alive and obviously score a lot more runs when we give them up. But at the same time, I think pitching wins championships. You're able to go out there and dominate the lineups. … You look at the stars we have again, I think the starter sets the tone.” 

Eovaldi set the tone himself on Friday when he made his second Cactus League start, tossing 3 1/3 shutout innings in a 4-3 loss to the Brewers at Surprise Stadium. He faced the minimum through three innings as savvy defense behind him kept the basepaths clean. He allowed four hits but struck out five.

Eovaldi made his Cactus League debut on Feb. 25, when he tossed two clean innings against the Royals to start Spring Training. He felt the left side tightness in the following days and was shut down on March 1, when the training staff decided to play it cautiously and skip his next scheduled start.

Eovaldi then faced Double-A Northwest Arkansas (a Royals affiliate) on Tuesday on the back fields at Surprise, where he tossed two innings, allowed two hits but no walks and struck out two. He threw 22 of his 29 pitches for strikes.

“I was happy with [Friday’s outing],” Eovaldi said. “I felt like I was ahead in the counts, felt like I used all my pitches. The only thing I need to work on doing better at is executing with two strikes. The last two hitters that I've faced, I had been in good spots and I just didn't quite execute the pitches where I wanted them. I feel like I've been filling up the strike zone well and my body's feeling great. But again, I just kind of do a little bit better job when I’m ahead in the count.”

Eovaldi’s four-seamer -- which averaged 95.7 mph last season -- sat in the upper 90s against the Brewers and touched 99 mph multiple times. He threw only four fastballs at or above 99 mph in 2022 with the Red Sox. 

The slight drop in fastball velocity last season was likely due to his injuries. Eovaldi spent two stints on the injured list -- once with right shoulder inflammation and once with lower back inflammation -- which limited him to 20 starts. But when healthy, he looked to be in good form. In 109 1/3 innings, he posted a 3.87 ERA (109 ERA+) and a 1.23 WHIP.

Eovaldi doesn’t put much stock in his velocity last season, noting he opened the season feeling just as good as he had in the past. In 2021, when he was an American League All-Star, he logged 51 pitches at or above 99 mph. 

“Despite the setback, I'm pleased with where I am, and we still have plenty of time to fine-tune the things that I need to work on,” Eovaldi said of his progress this spring. “That's the beauty of having five pitches. As long as I have the fastball working for the most part, I should be able to go out there and execute everything and to be able to use the offspeed pitches to figure it out as the game continues.”