E-Rod ready to go: 'Don't sleep' on '21 Sox

February 19th, 2021

Considering all that went through in 2020 -- from COVID-19 knocking him down and keeping him bedridden for two weeks in June to the myocarditis diagnosis in July that wiped away his entire season -- it would be understandable for the lefty to be mainly looking to get back on his feet as Spring Training gets underway.

However, Rodriguez has come in with a totally different mindset, one fueled by a rigorous offseason.

He plans on picking right up where he left off in 2019, when he busted out with a career-high 19 wins while making all 34 of his starts.

"That's what I was working on this offseason, to get my body ready, to get my mind ready, to get everything ready," Rodriguez said. "My conditioning, everything. I was working on that to be available to go out there every five days be able to throw 30-plus starts. I feel in that position right now, I feel stronger right now, I feel better. My shoulder is good. I threw a bullpen [session] a couple of days ago and it feels fine, it feels great. I feel ready."

Not only does Rodriguez plan on pitching like he did two years ago, but he plans on doing it for a team that he thinks will exceed just about everyone's expectations.

In case you hadn't heard, expectations for Boston are a little low from the prognosticators when it comes to the 2021 season. That's what happens after a 24-36 season in '20.

"I feel like we have a really good rotation, and when [Chris] Sale gets back, it's going to be way better," said Rodriguez. "I was just going to say, don't sleep on us, because we're coming in really good. I've been out there the past three days with the guys and we look really good."

At least until Sale comes back, Rodriguez will be the one who is going to have to lead the charge in a rotation that also includes Nathan Eovaldi, new acquisition Garrett Richards, Martín Pérez, Nick Pivetta and possibly prospect Tanner Houck.

It seems like not so long ago Rodriguez was soaking up every lesson he could learn from Sale, David Price and Rick Porcello. Now he is the one the other rotation members are going to look to.

"I had the opportunity to be with them for a lot of time and learn from them," Rodriguez said. "I don't feel like a veteran right now. I just say, as an older guy on the team, everything I've learned from them I try to pass to the new guys here, to the new pitchers we have, to the guys who've come from the Minor Leagues. Just try to teach them the right way like the other guys taught me. That's the way I see it."

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The 27-year-old Rodriguez shared stories on Instagram over the winter of throwing to Miguel Cabrera and racing teammate J.D. Martinez. In particular, he spent a lot of time with Martinez in Miami.

"I feel really good with the way I was working out over there, especially with J.D. there," Rodriguez said. "We were pushing each other every day down there and I think I accomplished the goal I was looking for when I was there."

Rodriguez's enthusiasm these days is easy to detect, and the Red Sox hope it will be a guiding force in their 2021 season.

"He was the leader in 2019," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. "We saw it. He put a full season together. When he's healthy, when he's right, he is one of the best lefties in the big leagues. His stuff plays at this level and I'm looking forward to working with him again this season."

Before the pandemic halted Spring Training and altered the entire 2020 season, Rodriguez would have had pitched Opening Day for the first time in his career.

Rodriguez had that taken away from him, but he will likely be on the mound on April 1 at Fenway Park when the Red Sox open up against the Orioles.

"My goal is to go out there every five days no matter what day it is, if it's first, second, third, fourth or fifth game," Rodriguez said. "Just go out every five days. I feel like Opening Day is just the first game of the season. After that, you face the aces if you're the fifth guy and things like that -- every time the other team has days off or we have days off, so that's how it works. But if they give me the opportunity to be the Opening Day starter this year, I'm going to take it as an honor to be the Opening Day starter with the Boston Red Sox and go out there and pitch."

This is a pivotal season for Rodriguez, in that he will be eligible for free agency for the first time come November.

Thanks to the perspective he gained last year, Rodriguez isn't thinking about his contract situation. Instead, he has laser focus for what is directly in his sights. Up next could be his first live batting practice session of camp.

"I mean, I just thank God to have the opportunity to pitch again," Rodriguez said. "I'm not thinking about any of that right now. I'm just thinking about getting ready to pitch the season, enjoy Spring Training the most I can, learn from the guys, learn from the pitching coach and go out there and get ready for the season. That's all I'm thinking about right now. I'm not thinking about anything else."