Red Sox: Eduardo Rodriguez nearing return

May 28, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez (52) throws a pitch in the first inning against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
May 28, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez (52) throws a pitch in the first inning against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports /

Left-handed pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez is closing in on a return to the Boston Red Sox following his latest successful rehab start.

The return of Eduardo Rodriguez to the Boston Red Sox rotation is on the horizon.

The 23-year old lefty turned in a solid start at Triple-A Pawtucket this week, getting him one step closer on his path back to the big leagues. Rodriguez surrendered three runs in the first inning, but buckled down after that to retire 16 of the last 18 batters he faced. He finished with only those three earned runs allowed over six innings, while striking out three batters.

Red Sox manager John Farrell expressed to reporters on Wednesday that he was pleased with Rodriguez’s progress, but expects him to make at least one more rehab start before he’s deemed ready to return to Boston’s rotation.

"“He’ll make his next start with Pawtucket on Sunday [May 8], with upwards of 90 to 100 pitches the next time out, and hopefully to make the same strides he made between his first and second starts on rehab,” revealed Farrell. “From the second to the sixth innings, they were probably more crisp, more sharp. We’re looking for that to continue, to advance.”"

If all goes well with Rodriguez’s next outing it would potentially put him in line to be activated for a start on May 13 at Fenway Park against the Houston Astros. While that seems like a feasible target based on Rodriguez’s original timeline, Farrell is pumping the breaks on setting that as an expectation.

"“It’s probably a little too early to tell,” said Farrell. “I think with each outing he’s gaining more confidence and feeling more natural and free on the mound. We’ll assess after he gets through Sunday’s game.”"

Farrell is simply being cautious to avoid putting unnecessary pressure on Rodriguez, as well as to protect against the possibility of a setback. There’s also the chance that Rodriguez could get roughed up in his next outing, which wouldn’t be the ideal time to activate him. When he returns to the big leagues they want him to be riding high on a wave of confidence. As long as he pitches as well as he did in his last outing there is a solid chance his next start after that will come in Boston.

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Before the Red Sox can activate Rodriguez they also need to determine whose spot in the rotation he’ll be taking. It won’t be Steven Wright, given that the knuckleball pitcher has been the team’s best starter this season. Wright’s sparkling 1.67 ERA ranks fourth in the American League entering the day on Thursday.

There were plenty of fans calling for Clay Buchholz to be dropped from the rotation, but those critics have been quieted following the veteran right-hander’s impressive outing Wednesday night. We’ve seen Buchholz miraculously flip the switch to transform from dud to stud enough times already to know that this could be a sign that a dominant stretch is coming – at least until he inevitably winds up on the disabled list.

The most likely candidate to be replaced in Henry Owens, who has been a mixed bag through two starts. He failed to make it out of the fourth inning in his first start against the Astros, but held the New York Yankees to a pair of runs over six innings in his last time out. Unlike the other members of this rotation, Owens still has options to be sent back to the minors, making him the clear choice to be replaced. However, if he manages to deliver another solid outing Thursday night in Chicago then it would give the Red Sox less urgency to rush Rodriguez back to take his place.

Once the team sorts out who Rodriguez will replace, they’ll be faced with the challenge of what to do with Joe Kelly when he returns. After a successful bullpen session on Tuesday, Kelly is expected to make his first rehab start on Friday.

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The Red Sox will cross that bridge when they get to it. Rodriguez’s timetable is ahead of Kelly’s, plus the young lefty is more of a lock to be a mainstay in the rotation if he manages to build on his impressive rookie campaign. Rodriguez has more upside than any pitcher on the Red Sox staff outside of ace David Price, so they’ll be eager to work him back into the mix once he’s deemed ready.

Based on the results of his most recent outing, it seems Rodriguez is getting very close to being ready.