Red Sox starter Nathan Eovaldi impresses Ron Roenicke

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 08: Nathan Eovaldi #17 of the Boston Red Sox throws a pitch against the New York Yankees during the first inning in Game Three of the American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium on October 08, 2018 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 08: Nathan Eovaldi #17 of the Boston Red Sox throws a pitch against the New York Yankees during the first inning in Game Three of the American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium on October 08, 2018 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /
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Nathan Eovaldi produced another strong spring training performance that drew rave reviews from Boston Red Sox interim manager Ron Roenicke.

Nasty Nate was at it again. The Boston Red Sox defeated the Toronto Blue Jays in a split-squad game on Saturday behind another strong start from Nathan Eovaldi.

The right-hander tossed three shutout innings, allowing only one hit while striking out four. He still hasn’t allowed a run through three starts this spring and only five batters have reached base against him in eight innings.

Eovaldi came out firing with a 97 mph fastball and kept his velocity hovering in the upper-90s throughout his outing. Eovaldi isn’t one to dial it back simply because this is a meaningless spring training game. When he’s on the mound, expect him to be throwing gas.

The blazing fastball that can flirt with triple-digits is Eovaldi’s trademark but it’s the offspeed pitches that caught Ron Roenicke‘s eye. The Red Sox interim manager raved about Eovaldi’s ability to throw those pitches for strikes.

"“This early, it’s really about as good as it can get,” Roenicke said, per MLB.com. “To have the command of your pitches as early as this, it’s got to be huge for his confidence. … The most impressive thing for me has been his offspeed pitches, because he’s been able to throw them down in the zone where he wants to.”"

The pinpoint control that Eovaldi has displayed this spring is the most encouraging sign that he’s poised for a bounce-back season. The walk he allowed in the first inning this afternoon was his first free pass this spring.

When he’s at his best, Eovaldi has been stingy with allowing walks. In 2018, his 4.4 BB% placed him in the top 4 percent of the league but that walk percentage vaulted to 11.6% during last year’s dismal campaign, per Statcast.

For a pitcher with an overpowering fastball, Eovaldi owns a rather pedestrian 7.0 K/9 for his career. He posted a career-high 9.3 K/9 last year but the uptick in strikeouts was washed away by the inflated walk rate. His strikeout rate gained a boost from spending time in the bullpen, which we expect won’t be where he’ll end up this year.

This spring, Eovaldi has combined the elite strikeout rate with masterful control. If he puts both together over the course of a full season, Eovaldi could be in store for the best year of his career. Suddenly the $51 million remaining on the contract the Red Sox failed to dump this winter could end up being a bargain.

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We should pump the breaks on the Eovaldi hype with the obvious disclaimer that this is only spring training. Teams aren’t throwing a full major league caliber lineup at him and he hasn’t had to navigate the batting order multiple times.

Today’s outing also showed he still has some issues to work through. Eovaldi got into an early jam by allowing a one out base hit and a walk before recording his first strikeout to escape the opening frame. This start could have gone much differently if he unraveled in the first inning but he buckled down and got out of the mess unscathed.

He wasn’t particularly efficient, requiring 57 pitches to get through three innings. A few times we saw hitters take him to deep counts by fouling off pitches as Eovaldi struggled to put them away. He eventually won those battles without suffering any damage but it will be difficult for him to pitch deep into games if he allows hitters to hang around that long.

Granted, this is nit-picking for a pitcher with an unblemished ERA who has struck out 41.4% of the batters he’s faced. Eovaldi has been brilliant and his new manager is clearly as impressed as the rest of us.

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Eovaldi will continue to build up his pitch count as we move closer to the regular season and it will be interesting to see if he can retain anywhere near the same level of strikeout and walk rates under the strain of a heavier workload. If even a modest amount of this spring success carries over into the season, the Red Sox rotation may not be as doomed as we assumed.