Eduardo Rodriguez's comeback was bound to hit a pothole or two along the way.
After four solid starts to open the season, the ace lefty didn’t look sharp at any point on Saturday night, as the Red Sox fell, 8-6, to the Rangers at Globe Life Field.
Rodriguez gave up eight hits and four runs and manager Alex Cora lifted him after five innings, despite the fact he threw only 67 pitches.
“It was a grind for him,” said Cora. “They put [together] good at-bats. His stuff wasn’t as sharp as before, but he gave us five innings. They scored three runs, we had the lead. But I think today, it was a grind from the get-go for him.”
Though Rodriguez had a strong outing last time out, this was the second straight start that he showed diminished velocity. He topped out at 94.3 mph on his sinker and averaged 93.1 mph on that pitch Saturday. The four-seamer topped out at 93.4 mph with an average of 92.4 mph. Rodriguez generated just five swings and misses.
Rodriguez didn’t throw a pitch in 2020 due to COVID-19 and myocarditis. Until Saturday, he had looked strong in his return to action.
After the start, Rodriguez was adamant that there were no red flags and the recent dip in velocity is probably just attributable to the fact he needs to rebuild arm strength.
“It’s going to get back. I feel like today was what, 91-94?” Rodriguez said. “Last game I was 89-90, so it’s something that will get back with time. I feel good with that right now. I feel good to throw those pitches. If you see the last game, I was hitting 89-90 and was available to go seven innings because I was locating my pitches.
“Like I was saying, it’s more about location than throwing hard. You can throw 100 mph right down the middle, they’re going to hit it pretty hard. If you throw 90 right where you want it, you’ll get a good result out of it. That’s what I think.”
It’s not like this game fell on Rodriguez either. When he departed, the Red Sox held a 5-4 lead. And for the first time this season, reliever Matt Andriese didn’t come through in a key spot, giving up three runs in the bottom of the sixth.
The real swing in momentum
The key reason the Red Sox lost on Saturday wasn’t due to Rodriguez or Andriese. Instead, it was a huge missed opportunity in the top of the fifth.
Earlier in the frame, the Sox had scored two runs to stake Rodriguez to a 5-3 lead. Then, they had the bases loaded with no outs -- a situation that begged for them to break the game open.
It didn’t happen. Christian Vázquez grounded out to third, with the lead runner getting cut down at the plate. Bobby Dalbec and Hunter Renfroe followed with strikeouts.
Unsurprisingly, the momentum swung to the Rangers from there.
“Bases loaded and no outs and we don't score,” said Cora. “It’s just, [former Major Leaguer] Jeff Reboulet used to say that the other team is going to score 85 percent of the time if you don't score there. So I don't know if that's true. You guys can take a look at it. But we had a chance to put them away and we didn’t. We had traffic all over the place today, and I know we scored some runs but we had a chance to score some more.”
Though the slumping Renfroe had one of his best games of the season with a two-run homer and a single, the bottom third of the order has been a problem for the Red Sox.
“We’ll keep working, you know, and at one point, they're gonna start swinging the bat well,” said Cora. “Hunter put a good swing on it and gave us the lead. The line drive to right to start off the eighth, that was a good one. We’ll keep working with them, and they’re gonna be OK.”
Raffy’s shoulder scare
In the top of the ninth, the Red Sox got a scare when star slugger Rafael Devers took a big cut and then started flexing with discomfort in his right shoulder.
Cora came out to look at him, and the third baseman finished his at-bat, hitting a couple of authoritative foul balls before striking out swinging.
Fortunately, the Red Sox didn’t get the same result as on April 11 in Baltimore, when Devers had a similar reaction after a swing and Cora came to check on him. In that instance, Devers hit the next pitch out of the ballpark.
“Yeah, I'm gonna talk to him in a little bit, but he just felt his shoulder a little bit. It happened before,” said Cora. “So I'll check with him and see, see what we have.”
Given the ferocity with which Devers swings, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that sometimes he feels something in his shoulder. What did Cora tell him when he went out to talk to him?
“I told him to cut [down] his swing a little,” Cora said.