To say Rubby De La Rosa stepped up would be an understatement.
The Boston Red Sox used nine pitchers Saturday in a crushing, 19-inning loss to the Los Angeles Angels. Their bullpen was taxed to the point where reliever Heath Hembree was optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket after a dazzling Red Sox debut because Boston needed a fresh arm.
De La Rosa offered the ‘pen a much-needed respite in Sunday’s series finale by lasting seven-plus innings en route to a 3-1 win over the Halos.
De La Rosa wasn’t flawless. In fact, he stumbled into trouble almost immediately, loading the bases with one out in the first inning by issuing back-to-back walks to Albert Pujols and Erick Aybar. De La Rosa escaped the first-inning jam with a double play, however, and it set the tone for the rest of the right-hander’s outing.
“I think that’s where the poise really started to show up most,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “In the first inning, they get a swinging bunt, he walks a couple of guys and we get a key ground ball double play. As he settled into a good rhythm, he was able to add and subtract (velocity) to his fastball. He always has that changeup in which to go to. Just the overall relaxation and confidence is really showing through.”
De La Rosa surrendered five hits and walked three. He put two runners on base in three separate innings yet navigated through danger anytime it arose. The Angels’ only run came on Mike Trout’s home run in the eighth inning, minutes after Yoenis Cespedes broke a scoreless tie with a three-run homer over the left field fence. By that point, De La Rosa, who threw 110 pitches (67 strikes), had already done his job, which was to work deep into the ballgame and give the Red Sox a chance to win one night after a six hour, 31 minute marathon left the club gasping for air.
“I think a starter’s mentality is to always go deep. But guys understand the game,” Farrell said. “They know what we went through last night. And he was able to do that. He was relatively efficient. I don’t think he set out today knowing that, ‘OK, I’m going to look at seven or eight innings to try to get it done all at once.’ He did a heck of a job.”
The circumstances of De La Rosa’s performance certainly added to its overall importance. But the 25-year-old also continued to solidify himself as Boston’s most impressive young pitcher this season. He has allowed just two earned runs on 11 hits over 13 innings (1.38 ERA) in two starts during the Red Sox’s current road trip, answering questions about whether he can pitch away from Fenway Park.
“I think more than anything he’s pitching with an awful lot of confidence and he’s maintaining his stuff deep into games,” Farrell said.
De La Rosa matched a career-high with eight strikeouts Sunday. Three came on fastballs, three on sliders and two on changeups, offering a pretty good indication of how well he mixed his pitches. De La Rosa touched 95-96 mph with his fastball but benefitted greatly from keeping hitters off balance.
“He was locating his fastball when he needed to, good use of his fastball, too,” said catcher Dan Butler, who made his major league debut. “He was mixing speeds really well. He was around the plate the whole time, making guys swing when he needed to. He just did a great job.”
The rest of this season represents an opportunity for the organization’s up-and-comers to showcase their skills in the hopes of landing a key role for 2015. Right now, De La Rosa looks like the cream of the crop.