BOSTON -- Eduardo Rodriguez flirted with perfection for a while on Friday night. And even if he didn’t achieve it, it was a game that felt just about perfect for the Red Sox because they hadn’t experienced anything like it so far this season.
The defending World Series champions suddenly looked whole because they at last got a command performance from a starting pitcher. Backed by the mastery of E-Rod, the Sox rolled to a 6-4 victory over the Orioles in the opener of a four-game series at Fenway Park. This marks the first time Boston (5-9) has notched a two-game winning streak this season.
“There was conviction, great tempo, execution,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “We've needed a start like this for two weeks. He went out there and did an outstanding job.”
As cold as the starting pitchers were to start the season, that is how hot they might be able to get. Don’t forget: The rotation was the perceived strength of this team coming in.
“I mean after the [comeback] win yesterday, I think we all turned the page,” Rodriguez said. “We all are going now. You’re going to see a lot of starters doing this now, from here out. I know that. I know they’re working on their pitches and everything. You will see a lot more of this.”
An assist from Pedro
No Sox starter had struggled more than E-Rod in his first two starts, when he went 0-2 with a 12.38 ERA. But the lefty has a pretty good resource in the legendary Pedro Martinez. And the two of them went to work in the days leading up to Friday’s start.
“This past week, in between starts, I was working with Pedro over there in the bullpen,” Rodriguez said. “I changed my mechanics to go back to when I got to the big leagues. We worked on it in the bullpen, on flat ground, everything. As soon as I got in the game, I see the first pitch was 94, 95. I said, ‘I’ve got my fastball.’ I was in command. I started throwing it a lot more. I was feeling really good.”
The return of Rodriguez’s best fastball enabled him to turn his changeup into a lights-out weapon. Those two pitches accounted for 20 of the 21 swings and misses that Rodriguez induced over his 93 pitches.
“That’s his pitch,” said catcher Christian Vazquez. “That’s the best pitch for him, the changeup. That’s why he’s in the big leagues. I think if the changeup is good, it’s going to be a good night for him.”
Rodriguez displayed a powerful four-seamer, topping out at 95.7-mph and averaging 93.6.
“It’s not just the velocity,” Rodriguez said. “It was more about the command. I had the fastball right where I wanted it most of the game, so that set up my other pitches, too.”
Benny’s blast ends long drought
Though Rodriguez was clearly the story of the night, there was another encouraging development when Andrew Benintendi broke a scoreless tie by clubbing a solo shot over the Green Monster with two outs in the third.
Including the postseason, Benintendi had gone 194 at-bats without a home run.
“I was just trying to hit something hard. Left it over the middle and put a good swing on it,” said Benintendi. “It feels nice. I think that as a lefty you know that you can hit a ball off the wall and you don't have to necessarily hit it that well. I haven't been able to hit one over it that much so that was nice to see it go over."
Between E-Rod’s mastery, Benintendi’s homer and a couple of sweet grabs in center by Jackie Bradley Jr., maybe the Red Sox are finally ready to be what people thought they were -- which is a championship-caliber team.
“I think that maybe we're just starting to hit our stride or getting back to what we're used to,” said Benintendi. “Little warmer tonight which always helps. Hopefully we're trending in that direction."