In a tough blow for both the Red Sox and their ace lefty, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom informed reporters on Saturday that Eduardo Rodriguez has been shut down for the 2020 baseball season.
Rodriguez was diagnosed last week with myocarditis (inflammation in the heart), a condition that may be related to his contraction of COVID-19 earlier this summer. The southpaw did not experience chest pain or any symptoms, but both he and the Red Sox are taking an abundance of caution given the nature of the diagnosis.
The good news is that the club is confident Rodriguez will make a full recovery.
“This case, while it’s something that’s persistent, is not something that has impacted or damaged the functioning of his heart, which in that event, the prognosis is good and these things just take time,” said Bloom.
“Now, myocarditis following COVID is obviously not something that the medical community has a lot of data on because the virus itself is new, much less in an athlete, but everything we know about myocarditis itself indicates that when you have a case like this, the long-term prognosis is good, the recovery should be complete, it’s just a question of time.”
The Red Sox learned of Rodriguez’s heart issue the day before they opened their season against the Orioles. At the time, he was shut down from pitching for one week and the Red Sox were optimistic he would be able to join the rotation in ’20.
But when the Red Sox received results of his latest follow-up exam on Friday night, it became clear that allowing him to play baseball this season wouldn’t be possible.
“We are confident he’s going to make a full recovery and that his long-term prognosis is excellent, but the fact of the matter is there just isn’t enough time left this season to safely ramp him back up to pitching,” Bloom explained. “Obviously, it’s unfortunate, not something any of us are happy about, least of all Eduardo. But we need to make sure we’re taking care of him. This is not something to mess around with, so we’re shutting him down.”
The 27-year-old Rodriguez is not only one of the most important players on the Red Sox, but he is also one of the most popular within the confines of the clubhouse. He informed his teammates via Zoom on Saturday that he won’t pitch this season.
Rodriguez had spoken a couple of weeks ago about how hard COVID-19 hit him during June, saying, “I felt like I was 100 years old”.
“Here is one of the best pitchers in the game last year and he’s not able to perform on the field,” said Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke. “And at a young age, young people aren’t [always] safe from this. It hits different people in different ways. It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old -- you’re more at risk when you’re older, but it hits the young pretty hard, too, at times. Eddie, just unfortunately, he’s one of those guys that it hit hard, and to lose an entire season is pretty rough on anybody.”
After years of knocking on the door of being a top-tier starter, only to be derailed by injuries, Rodriguez at last had a fully healthy 2019 season. In making 34 starts, he went 19-6 with a 3.81 ERA and notched 213 strikeouts.
“You just feel bad for Eddie, with the year that he had last year and the year that he had in the offseason and coming into Spring Training hopefully following it with another great year,” said Roenicke. “We hope this thing heals up and next year we have the same great pitcher.”
Following the offseason trade of David Price and the news in March that Chris Sale had to undergo Tommy John surgery, Rodriguez and Nathan Eovaldi were being counted on to form a solid 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation.
The Red Sox have won Eovaldi’s first two starts, but they have been hard-pressed to get quality innings in the other four turns through the rotation, which entered Saturday’s game against the Yankees with the Majors’ fourth-worst ERA at 6.21.
“When you look out over the course of the season, it certainly makes the mountain a little higher, so we have been and will continue to obviously monitor the market and make sure we’re not walking by any opportunity to upgrade our group. And also with us and running in Pawtucket, we’re keeping a close eye on those guys as well,” said Bloom.
The loss of Rodriguez makes it more likely Red Sox pitching prospects such as Bryan Mata (No. 4) or Tanner Houck (No. 10) get some chances to start at some point this season. Power lefty Darwinzon Hernandez, who broke in last year mainly as a reliever, is in the midst of coming back from COVID-19. Bloom didn’t rule out Hernandez going back to his natural role of starting if the team can properly stretch him out.
All three pitchers are currently training at the team’s alternate site in Pawtucket, R.I.
“Tanner, we know where he is on his progression,” Bloom said. “He’s probably a little closer. ... If he’s going to have as much success as he possibly can in the big leagues, we need to help him in his plan with his effectiveness against left-handers. That’s an emphasis over there in Pawtucket, and something we’re going to work on in targeted fashion.
“Mata, the outing he had [at Pawtucket on Friday] was really, really impressive. Sometimes you have a guy whose arm is that good, whose stuff is that tantalizing, and it’s tempting to take shortcuts. I think it’s really important not to do that if we’re going to help someone reach their ceiling.”
As for the Red Sox, their ceiling for 2020 doesn’t seem all that high, but you never know in an abbreviated season in which the postseason pool has been increased from five to eight teams per league.
“You can’t walk into this job or any job in baseball expecting everything to go according to plan,” said Bloom. “You know there are going to be a few curveballs. There have probably been more than our share of those in our organization this year, but that’s just part of what we have to do.”
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.