BOSTON — Rubby De La Rosa was up to the challenge.
De La Rosa, making his first major league start with the Red Sox, showed why the organization views him as a starter long-term in Saturday’s 7-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park. The 25-year-old dazzled over seven shutout innings in a gem that handed Boston its sixth straight victory.
“Every pitch he threw and everything he was able to do, he looked like a big league pitcher out there that’s been here for 10 years,” catcher A.J. Pierzynski said after the game.
De La Rosa surrendered just four hits. He struck out eight, didn’t walk anyone and threw 72 of his 105 pitches for strikes. It was continuation of what De La Rosa has been able to do this season at Triple-A Pawtucket, where he owns a 3.04 ERA and 8.8 strikeouts per nine innings over 10 starts.
“I know I’ve heard whispers of how good this kid can be and I saw little glimpses of it in spring training,” Pierzynski said. “But to actually see him do it on this stage and this situation, especially after last night and all that went down, it was impressive. Hopefully, he gains confidence and builds on it.”
De La Rosa, who was acquired from the Dodgers as part of the trade that sent Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto to Los Angeles in August 2012, made 11 relief appearances with the Red Sox last season. He posted a 5.56 ERA over 11 1/3 innings.
The Red Sox entered spring training viewing him as a starter — a role De La Rosa has admitted he prefers — and Saturday’s start displayed the right-hander’s immense potential. Not only does he have a fastball that tops out in the high 90s, but his changeup has come a long way in his development and he continues to pound the strike zone with greater frequency than in previous years.
“He was outstanding, and the biggest difference from a year ago to what we saw tonight was just an outstanding changeup,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said after Saturday’s game. “A lot of swing and miss, a very good fastball and a lot of strikes. But the changeup was really the separator for him tonight.”
De La Rosa, who made 10 big league starts with Los Angeles before being traded to Boston, is the first pitcher to allow no runs or walks with at least eight strikeouts in his first Red Sox start since Calvin Schiraldi in 1987. It was a nice first step toward De La Rosa separating himself from a crowd of talented young pitchers in the Red Sox organization, especially now that his Tommy John surgery is a distant memory.
“I feel good,” De La Rosa said. “I feel like everything is working.”