ST. PETERSBURG – In what is a bit of a feel-good story for the Red Sox, lefty Eduardo Rodriguez, who didn’t throw a single pitch in 2020 due to contracting COVID-19 and myocarditis, will take the ball for Boston in Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Rays on Thursday night at Tropicana Field.
“It means a lot because of everything that I went through last year and I have the opportunity to throw the first inning in the ALDS,” said Rodriguez. “It feels really good. It's just special. I feel like it's really special for me to have the opportunity to start a game like that.”
Though it was a spotty season for Rodriguez (13-8, 4.74 ERA), he was able to make 32 appearances (31 starts) and pitched some of his best baseball down the stretch. Perhaps Rodriguez’s best start of the season was at Tropicana Field on Sept. 2, when he fired six shutout innings.
Manager Alex Cora decided between Rodriguez or Nick Pivetta to start Game 1. What led to Cora giving the ball to Rodriguez?
“He has been throwing the ball well. We think it's a good matchup,” Cora said. “Obviously with them, you have to mix and match. They're going to look for an advantage and all that. We'll have Nick in the bullpen tomorrow, and we'll do what we do.”
Though Cora hasn’t named a starter for Game 2 on Friday just yet, ace Chris Sale is likely to take the ball. That start would come five days after Sale had a disappointing Game No. 162 in Washington, recording just seven outs. Sale has made nine starts since returning from Tommy John surgery, going 5-1 with a 3.16 ERA.
Nathan Eovaldi, who was masterful against the Yankees in the Wild Card Game (5 1/3 innings, 1 ER, 0 BB, 8 K’s), is all but certain to start Game 3 in Boston on Sunday.
No closer for Red Sox
Cora hasn’t used a set closer since Aug. 24, when he pulled a struggling Matt Barnes from that role. And with his team getting ready to start the Division Series, Cora isn’t going to change that philosophy now.
Rookie Rule 5 pick Garrett Whitlock, who has been Boston’s best reliever all season, pitched the ninth inning of the Wild Card Game. But Cora said not to read anything into that.
“We will keep mixing and matching and we'll try to maximize our roster. Yesterday, we used Hansel [Robles] in a situation [before the ninth] that we knew he had a chance to face lefties. He did a good job,” said Cora. “Whit came in there with some matchups that we felt that were good. Tanner [Houck], the same thing. We'll keep mixing and matching, and we'll use our starters [in relief] too in this series. We will. So, you know, let's see where the games take us, and we go from there. “
World Series-winning teammates face off in ALDS
While managing against each other is nothing new for Cora and Rays skipper Kevin Cash, there will be increased stakes when they are in opposing dugouts in the postseason for the first time.
Cash and Cora were teammates with the Red Sox on the 2007 World Series-winning team and on the ’08 squad that came one win from getting back to the Fall Classic, only to lose Game 7 at Tropicana Field.
“He was a great teammate,” Cash said of Cora. “It was special to be a part of that group. Obviously, there was a superstar-caliber team in '07 and '08. Came up a little short here against the Rays. Wouldn't mind seeing that happen again at this point.
“But as far as Alex is concerned, you know, just very informed, very intelligent, baseball intelligent, people-smart. There was a group of us with Alex, Mike Lowell, Sean Casey, and I tried to just be a sponge and learn as much as possible from umpteen years of knowledge, and we can all appreciate how their careers have taken on. Some are doing media, and some are managing. Alex has done a really good job.”