Just one day after being scratched from what would have been the first Opening Day start of his career, Red Sox lefty Eduardo Rodriguez was back to work on Saturday morning, throwing a 36-pitch bullpen session.
The decision to have Nathan Eovaldi pitch Opening Day on April 1 against the Orioles was due to Rodriguez experiencing “dead arm” in his most recent Grapefruit League start on Monday.
The fact that Rodriguez was already back on the mound on Saturday was an encouraging sign that his absence from the rotation could be minimal.
In fact, manager Alex Cora still hasn’t ruled out Rodriguez for a turn in the first series of the regular season. The final two games of that series are April 3 and 4.
The Red Sox needed this bit of good news on the same day it was revealed that closer candidate Matt Barnes tested positive for COVID-19 and will be on the injured list for the start of the season.
“He was good. Better than we thought,” Cora said of Rodriguez. “And it was in a controlled environment, which is good. He was able to throw all his pitches. Control was sharp. Now we’ll wait to see how he reacts tomorrow. And we’ll map it out from there. But he looked OK. It wasn’t max effort, throwing 93 or 94 mph, but for him to get back on the mound, it was a good step.”
Both Cora and Rodriguez said that the key would be how the lefty feels on Sunday morning.
“I feel really good today, and threw my pitches, and feel strong. So I’ve got to see what the plan is tomorrow after I get here and see how I feel, but I feel really good today,” Rodriguez said prior to the Red Sox beating the Pirates, 7-4, in Bradenton, Fla., on Saturday.
It is understandable that the Red Sox are being cautious with Rodriguez, given his importance to the team and the fact he didn’t pitch in 2020 due to myocarditis.
Rodriguez emphasized that everything is fine with his shoulder and his elbow. Monday was just one of those days that happen in Spring Training.
“My shoulder, my elbow, everything is fine there,” Rodriguez said. “Location-wise, I can throw the pitch right where I want it. And like I said, today was really good.”
This is the second straight season Rodriguez has been knocked out of pitching on Opening Day. Last year, it was COVID-19 and then myocarditis. Compared to that, his current issue seems trivial.
“It was hard for me, because everyone wants to go out and do Opening Day one time in their career,” said Rodriguez. “But I think we made the right decision. I don’t want to go out there when it doesn’t feel 100 percent and I’m just throwing the ball. I want to be pitching, not just throwing the ball.”
Vázquez also feeling better
The Red Sox also had an encouraging update on catcher Christian Vázquez, who suffered a contusion and laceration under his left eye after being hit by a thrown ball during a drill on Thursday.
“Christian was here today, he looks better,” said Cora. “But he went to the doctor, he had a few tests. But the way he talked, the way he feels, it is a lot better than two days ago. So that’s a positive. So let's see how it goes this morning with him. We'll have more information [Sunday].”
At this point, the Red Sox expect Vázquez will be ready to go for Opening Day on Thursday.
Split decision on Sawamura
Japanese rookie righty Hirokazu Sawamura turned in his third consecutive scoreless outing on Saturday after struggling in his first two appearances for the Red Sox. However, one thing is missing: His splitter.
That was the pitch that was the key to Sawamura’s in-season turnaround last year in Japan.
“Still, the split is not a factor,” said Cora. “We’ve got to get there. The slider was good. The fastball was good. It was a back-to-back for him, so it was a good one for him today and keep moving forward.”
The Red Sox will play the cross-town Twins for the seventh and final time in Spring Training on Sunday at JetBlue Park. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who got a day to rest on Saturday, should be back in the lineup. Left fielder Franchy Cordero, who is trying to demonstrate that he is ready for Opening Day after missing the first few weeks of camp, will likely be in the starting lineup. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET. Catch all the action free on MLB.TV or watch on MLB Network.