FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Eduardo Rodriguez threw a pitch in the bullpen on Tuesday morning that was so on point, it prompted ace Chris Sale to laugh.The legendary Pedro Martinez knows ace-speak, so he knew exactly what Sale meant by the laugh.:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::•
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Eduardo Rodriguez threw a pitch in the bullpen on Tuesday morning that was so on point, it prompted ace Chris Sale to laugh.
The legendary Pedro Martinez knows ace-speak, so he knew exactly what Sale meant by the laugh.
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"That's ridiculous. Just ridiculous," Martinez said, when asked what Sale thought of that particular pitch.
While Martinez stood next to Rodriguez during the side session, Sale stood behind him for a close-up look.
Two of the best pitchers the Red Sox have ever had are clearly invested in Rodriguez, and they hold the belief he will be something special.
A few minutes later, Rodriguez took his filthy arsenal out to Field 5 for batting practice, and Sale gleefully tagged along.
"Eddie, you throwing live today?" Sale asked. "I'm riding shotgun."
David Price, Rick Porcello, Nathan Eovaldi were also on hand as Rodriguez fired biting fastballs, curves, changeups and that new weapon of choice -- the slider that Sale is tutoring him on.
Andrew Benintendi, Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers stood in the batter's box and probably felt lucky they won't have to face Rodriguez in the regular season.
Less than two months from his 26th birthday and entering his fifth season, 2019 sure looks like leap year for Rodriguez.
And nobody believes Rodriguez is ready to take that leap more than Martinez, who as a special instructor for the Red Sox has essentially been joined at the hip with his protege for the last several Spring Trainings.
When Tuesday's batting practice session ended, Martinez clapped into his glove and shouted.
"That was one of the most impressive BPs that you could see," said Martinez. "No hesitation, no stopping. It was beautiful to watch."
Overall, what makes Martinez so excited about where Rodriguez is at this spring?
"I see for the first time he is demanding more out of every pitch," Martinez said. "He's asking for more and more. He's making good quality pitches, but he wants to improve them."
It helps that Rodriguez is also, by the accounts of many and obvious to anyone who observes him, in the best physical shape he's ever been in. Last season, Rodriguez went 13-5 with a 3.82 ERA.
"Eddie, I think, physically is more mature now," Martinez said. "He understands his body better. He's understanding where he needs to improve. He's not really worried about his position physically, because this is his first time in Spring Training the last few years that he comes over and there's no worries. He can just pitch."
With Rodriguez, there was always a bad knee to worry about. And then, when he was finally over the knee issues in 2018, he badly injured his right ankle on a fluke play at first base.
The comeback from that injury, however, presented the first hint that he had reached a new stage of maturity. Rodriguez had always been tentative after his knee injuries. But with the ankle, he was fiercely determined during his rehab and made it back in time for the stretch run.
When the Red Sox needed an emergency starter for Game 4 of the World Series after the 18-inning defeat the night before, Rodriguez stepped in beautifully until manager Alex Cora admittedly overextended him and Yasiel Puig unloaded for a monster three-run homer.
Overall, Rodriguez did his job, and the Red Sox ultimately won the game, and then the World Series the next day.
At this point, it seems to simply be about health with Rodriguez.
"When is Eddie going to make 25 or 30 starts? His winning percentage doesn't scare me at all," Martinez said. "He's going to win. He just needs to stay on the bump and hit the 25 to 30 mark and see what happens."
The possibilities seem endless, which is why Rodriguez draws such big crowds when he throws batting practice on a practice field.
"The work he put in the offseason is paying off. He's repeating his delivery," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. "You ask any of those guys, everybody was watching. He's kind of like the favorite pitcher of the whole camp. When he throws live BPs, everybody is out there watching."
Why is that?
"Besides giving him a hard time all the time, they want him to be great. They see it," Cora said. "At one point in their careers, Sale and Price were that guy. They're hard on him because they know how talented he is. Sometimes he gets caught up on who he wants to be. He wants to be Chris one day and Rick the next day and David the next outing. We want him to be Eduardo. Eduardo is a good big league pitcher. When he has that combination of fastball up, changeup down, he's lethal. They love him and they want him to be great.
"[It's] just a matter of him putting a whole season [together], and we do feel it's going to happen this year. Looking forward, he'll be great for us. He's going to be good."
Rodriguez is in a rotation surrounded by accomplished veterans, and while he appreciates his role as the little brother, he's ready to be on an even playing field.
"That's the way they look at me and I love it. That way they just teach me all the time. You've got Cy Youngs from these guys here. I love the way they treat me. Like a little brother," Rodriguez said. "But I want to get to that point. I want to get to the point where I can be available to win a Cy Young [Award], like everybody wants to do that one day. But like I said, I just want to be healthy and help the team to win games."
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.