Red Sox lefty Eduardo Rodriguez faces steep challenge against Oakland A’s

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 8: Eduardo Rodriguez of the Boston Red Sox looks on during the second inning against the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on September 8, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts.(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 8: Eduardo Rodriguez of the Boston Red Sox looks on during the second inning against the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on September 8, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts.(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /
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Boston Red Sox left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez has pitched better lately but may have a difficult time against an A’s lineup that shelled him once already.

Eduardo Rodriguez has put a rough patch to open the 2019 campaign behind him with a few solid outings. He’s coming off his best start of the season when he held the Detroit Tigers to one run over six innings. Now he’ll face the challenge of avenging his worst loss of the year.

Rodriguez is 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA over his last three starts. The improvement may partially be credited to experimenting with a revamped slider that he learned from Dustin Pedroia, although there’s a simpler explanation. Rodriguez has recovered from a rocky start to become the pitcher many projected to have a breakout year.

The dramatic turnaround will be put to the test against an Oakland A’s lineup that shelled him for six runs when they last met earlier this month. Rodriguez is throwing the ball much better now yet this remains a formidable offense that feasts on hard-throwing lefties of his ilk.

Oakland is third in the American League with a 121 wRC+ against left-handed pitching this season, per FanGraphs. They rank fourth in the league with a .350 wOBA, .233 ISO, and .832 OPS when facing southpaws. Only the Minnesota Twins hit the ball hard at a higher rate than the 41.5 Hard Hit Percentage that the A’s have produced vs lefties.

Rodriguez has emerged as an elite strikeout artist in recent years, posting a career-high 10.1 K/9 last season and following up with a 9.7 K/9 through five starts this season. This is a case where his strengths don’t match up well against the opponent, as Oakland strikes out at the league’s lowest rate against lefties with a 15.6 K%.

Current A’s hitters are batting .261/.322/.441 in their careers against Rodriguez. The six-run shellacking he took the last time he faced Oakland helps to boost those numbers but E-Rod didn’t stick around long enough in that game for anyone to face him more than a couple of times. The success of several of their hitters against him dates back further than one poor outing.

Stephen Piscotty has been a nightmare for Rodriguez to face. The right fielder is 4-for-5 with a double and two home runs against him. Shortstop Chad Pinder is 4-for-12 with a double and a homer. Kendrys Morales has also taken him deep once and tallied three doubles to go along with a strong .296 batting average in a team-high 27 at-bats against Rodriguez.

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One of the few consolations for Rodriguez against this lineup is that he’s held their best power hitter in check. Reigning home run king Khris Davis is a mere 1-for-14 with a single against E-Rod. Perhaps he has his number but you can never be too careful with a hitter like Davis who is capable of sending any mistake into the bleachers.

Will pitching at Fenway Park make a difference? Rodriguez was on the road for his three worst outings of the season, including his last meeting with Oakland. He’s pitched much better at home, repeating a trend from last season when his 3.70 ERA at Fenway was an improvement over his 3.97 road ERA.

The A’s have struggled to the tune of a 4-8 record on the road this season. While that benefits Boston’s chances of winning, it may not help Rodriguez. The A’s bats have performed better on the road – not surprising considering their pitcher-friendly home park. Oakland is near the bottom of the league with a .301 wOBA at home but owns an above-average .332 wOBA on the road.

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The recent returns from Rodriguez have been encouraging but he’s not out of the woods yet. Inconsistency has been the story of his career so we should expect the occasional bump in the road. A rematch with the A’s seems to be setting up for one of those bumps.