Is this the year Eduardo Rodriguez finally takes the next step?
His teammates and coaches certainly believe so.
The Boston Red Sox lefty has teased ace-like potential during his first four seasons in the majors. But injuries, poor pace and general inconsistency have held him back and, in the case of last September and October, landed him in the doghouse.
And then Game 4 of the World Series happened.
Rodriguez was given the start with the Red Sox nursing a 2-1 series lead and responded by holding the Los Angeles Dodgers scoreless through five innings. Then, in the sixth inning, the 25-year-old surrendered four runs, punctuated by a three-run Yasiel Puig home run and a now-infamous glove throw. The Red Sox, of course, fought back to earn a 9-6 victory and won the Fall Classic the next night.
Rodriguez could’ve responded to the Puig homer in one of two ways: sulking and feeling sorry for himself, or using it as motivation to come back even stronger. According to his teammates, he’s chosen the latter.
“You can tell he’s had some drive this offseason,” Chris Sale recently told the Boston Herald’s Jason Mastrodonato.
“I feel like he’s taken it to a whole new level,” Nathan Eovaldi said. ” … For him to be as crisp and clean as he is now at the beginning of spring training, give him a little more time and he’s going to be even better.”
So, what’s changed about Rodriguez? For starters, it sounds like he’s become a gym rat.
“Everyone is in the best shape of their life, but Eddie really is in the best shape of his life,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said last week, via Mastrodonato.
But conditioning only goes so far. In addition to getting in great shape, Rodriguez has bolstered his repertoire by adding a new pitch, although it’s really a reinvention of one he already had.
Rodriguez typically throws two pitches, a mid-90s fastball and an exceptional changeup. He’s always had a slider in his back pocket but never has been able to turn it into anything better than average.
Now, it might be a go-to pitch.
“It was like, an in-between slider-cutter,” Cora told Mastrodonato. “Now it’s a real slider.”
Rodriguez busted out the reinvented slider during a live batting practice session Tuesday morning, and the pitch reportedly turned heads and wowed members of the Red Sox, including Mookie Betts, the rest of the starting rotation and front office staff.
Rather than developing the pitch on his own, Rodriguez sought help from one of Major League Baseball’s best pitchers.
“I worked with Sale and most of the guys, asked everyone the way they throw the curveball and slider and how they finish,” Rodriguez said. “But mostly Sale, because he has the best (expletive) slider in the game, so that’s how we do it.”
It remains to be seen whether Rodriguez truly turns a corner and fulfills his massive potential. Turning heads in drawn-out, hyperbole-soaked spring training is one thing, but finding success during the regular season is another.
Still, ahead of the most pivotal season of his young career, Rodriguez couldn’t be off to a better start.