If you like watching good pitching, then you had to have loved what you saw out of Boston Red Sox rookie Eduardo Rodriguez on Thursday night.
Making his major league debut, the 22-year-old left-hander displayed the polish and smarts of a veteran hurler but did so with electric stuff. It was an encouraging look for Red Sox fans at what the future could hold with Rodriguez taking the mound every five days.
What made Rodriguez’s start so impressive — in addition to allowing no runs on just three hits over 7 2/3 innings — is how smart his approach was. Pitching doesn’t have to be overly complicated, especially when you have the stuff Rodriguez does. As long as you have good command and control of your pitches, a simple plan of attack can be extremely effective.
It all starts with fastball command. If you can put your fastball where you want it and make hitters respect it, that pitch will make your secondary offerings much better. It doesn’t hurt, of course, when that fastball can get up around 96 mph as Rodriguez’s was, especially the first time through the lineup. The plan of attack against the Rangers was clear: Establish the fastball the first time through the lineup and make hitters respect the pitch.
That’s exactly what Rodriguez did. He needed 29 pitches to breeze through the Texas lineup the first time, and of those 29 pitches, 24 were fastballs. They were good fastballs, too. Up, down, in and out, Rodriguez showed tremendous command. He put the ball where he wanted, which keeps even a team like the Rangers — one of the best offenses in baseball this season — at bay.
Keeping with the textbook pitching philosophy, Rodriguez mixed in his secondary pitches the second spin through the lineup. The lefty needed 40 pitches the second time (strikeouts were a big reason), and just 20 of those 40 were fastballs. Rodriguez did a masterful job of mixing in his offspeed stuff, particularly the changeup, which he threw 15 times the second time through the lineup.
One quick note on Rodriguez’s changeup: Rarely do you see a pitcher of his age and experience have so much confidence in that pitch. It’s a feel pitch by nature, which makes it difficult to throw at times, and what stood out Thursday night is how unafraid he was to throw the change to hitters on both sides of the plate. Arm-side (left-hander to left-hander or vice versa) changeups are dicey sometimes, given the fact that if you don’t bury the pitch on the inner third of the plate, it’s going to be left out over the plate. However, Rodriguez threw some of his best changeups of the night to Prince Fielder, who entered the game hitting .368.
By the time Rodriguez made his third time through the lineup, he had shown everything. He leaned hard on the fastball again in the later innings, as pitchers are wont to do. Again, he displayed impressive command of the pitch, which was vital as his velocity ticked down a few mph in the later innings. He made pitches when he needed to, though, and controlled the entire game. To do so in your big league debut in a tough ballpark and with your team desperately needing a win makes it even more impressive.
You also have to give credit to catcher Blake Swihart. The 23-year-old handled Rodriguez like a veteran in terms of game-calling, most notably insisting the lefty throw a fastball even after being shaken off multiple times in a single at-bat before the pitcher relented. The Red Sox coaching staff also was clearly prepared with an excellent game plan that was executed almost flawlessly.
But obviously the bulk of the credit goes to Rodriguez. There certainly will be bumps along the way in his progression, but he showed Thursday night not only is he blessed with tremendous stuff, he also already has advanced pitching knowledge. It’s exciting to think this is only the beginning.
Thumbnail photo via Tim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports Images