Nathan Eovaldi is ready to embrace his new role.
Eovaldi made clear upon signing a four-year, $68 million contract with the Red Sox in December that he preferred to remain a starter, an opportunity Boston provided him as part of a rotation that also included Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello and Eduardo Rodriguez. Circumstances have changed, though, with the right-hander fighting his way back from elbow surgery and the Red Sox in desperate need of bullpen help, and Eovaldi thus will become Boston’s closer when he returns from the injured list at some point in the near future.
“I just told AC (Red Sox manager Alex Cora) ‘whatever I need to do to help the team,’ ” Eovaldi said Monday, according to WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford, after throwing live batting practice at Fenway Park. “I’m not going to be that guy who comes back and says I can only start. I know where we’re at in the season, and if I’m going to come back as a starter, it’s going to be another month. I want to come back and contribute now and do what I can to help. Starting is not off the board or anything yet, but if I can help out in the ‘pen, I want to do so.
“It definitely helps going fast with all the rehab stuff. It’s just frustrating because when I first got hurt, it was supposed to be a month, and then it turned into two, three months now. I’ve been itching to get back out there. I’m excited to go out there and help the team.”
Eovaldi has been limited to just four appearances (all starts) this season and hasn’t pitched since April 17. He underwent surgery to remove loose bodies from his throwing elbow following his most recent outing, and the rehab process has taken longer than expected.
It obviously would behoove the Red Sox to be cautious with Eovaldi, who has undergone two Tommy John surgeries in his career, but a move to the bullpen will allow the 29-year-old to return quicker than if he needed to be stretched out as a starter. Plus, the Red Sox need relief reinforcements, having struggled to replace Craig Kimbrel’s ninth-inning dominance, and they finally filled the fifth spot in their rotation Saturday by acquiring Andrew Cashner from the Baltimore Orioles.
“I think it will be different when I get down there, but I feel like having that mentality of going out there and attacking the hitters with everything you got for one inning and you’re ready to go the next inning,” Eovaldi said, according to Bradford.
Obviously, pitching out of the bullpen isn’t totally unfamiliar to Eovaldi, who thrived in a rover role for the Red Sox during last season’s World Series run. But he still has just 12 career relief appearances (four in the postseason) on his résumé and passed up the opportunity to close for other teams this past winter in order to remain a starter with Boston. A new job will mean a new mindset.
Fortunately for the Red Sox, Eovaldi seems to be adjusting well while working his way back toward game action. If the results follow when he returns to the mound, the Red Sox’s bullpen — and the team collectively — will be much better positioned to make a strong playoff push in the second half.
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