Red Sox may use Nathan Eovaldi as an opener vs Cleveland Indians
By Sean Penney
The Boston Red Sox are considering using Natha Eovaldi in the opener role for the series finale against the Cleveland Indians.
We never did get to see Nathan Eovaldi take over the closer role for the Boston Red Sox but we may see him as an opener.
Appearing on MLB Network Radio, manager Alex Cora indicated there’s a good chance that Eovaldi will serve as the opener for Wednesday’s game against the Cleveland Indians.
Eovaldi began the season in the rotation but posted an underwhelming 6.00 ERA in four starts before landing on the disabled list from a procedure to remove loose bodies in his elbow.
He returned last month in a relief role with the expectation that he would be a candidate to fill the closer void. Counting on Eovaldi to bolster the bullpen was among the reasons the Red Sox didn’t feel the need to trade for a reliever at the deadline but he hasn’t performed well enough to warrant being anointed the new closer.
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We last saw Eovaldi tossing a scoreless sixth inning on Sunday when he threw 19 pitches against the Los Angeles Angels. It was only the fourth time in nine relief appearances that he avoided giving up at least one run, lowering his ERA as a reliever to 6.75 this season.
Cora had previously shown little interest in following in the footsteps of the Tampa Bay Rays by using an opener. It works for the Rays because they have a deep bullpen and their payroll limitations make it more difficult to find five viable starting pitchers. Boston has the highest payroll in baseball yet they still have a disturbing shortage of viable starters with a thin bullpen backing them up.
Considering that he hasn’t pitched more than two innings or thrown more than 40 pitches in an outing since April, Eovaldi isn’t stretched out enough to rejoin the rotation. He may start the game but don’t call him a “starter.” As an opener, Eovaldi may only pitch an inning or two.
The Red Sox will likely have one of their other failed starters relieve Eovaldi. We could see Brian Johnson or Andrew Cashner pitch a few innings – perhaps both. Neither made it through three innings the last time they were given a chance to start. Having one of them follow an opener means they avoid the best bats at the top of the opposing lineup the first time through the order. The hope is that they’ll perform better if they enter the game knowing they are only expected to go a couple of innings.
It’s possible that Eovaldi opening games is merely the first step toward transitioning him back toward the starting rotation on a permanent basis but it will take time to stretch him out. The bullpen role clearly hasn’t worked out and he’s paid far too much money to enter 2020 settling for being a middle reliever. He’s still being treated like a reliever with short stints even if it’s technically not coming out of the bullpen but his future is in the rotation. For now, he’s somewhere in between.