Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez’s Opening Day status in doubt.
Rodriguez has remained in Miami since testing positive for COVID-19 and will need to test negative twice before he’s allowed to travel to Boston to join his teammates in camp. Manager Ron Roenicke acknowledged that time is running out for Rodriguez to be ready when the Red Sox host the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park in two weeks.
"“There is definitely a time when we’ll have to make that decision,” Roenicke told the media on Friday, per MassLive’s Chris Cotillo. “We haven’t yet. We haven’t really talked about when that day is. I know he’s continuing to stay active with his arm and throwing some. But it depends on how long it goes before he can get a couple test results that come back in our favor. Then we’re really not able to make a decision because we really don’t know what that timetable is. There certainly will be a time when we’re going to have to decide this has gone too far.”“I would say it is fast-approaching,” Roenicke added. “We need to hear some good news pretty soon.”"
We’re in uncharted waters in terms of ensuring pitchers have built up their arms properly to handle a starter’s workload. They typically need several weeks with at least a handful of appearances to gradually build up their strength but Rodriguez won’t have that luxury if he wants the honor of taking the mound on Opening Day.
Rodriguez did get some work in back in March before spring training was interrupted by the pandemic. E-Rod led the team with 11 innings over three starts, allowing only two earned runs (1.64 ERA) on 11 hits. He walked only two while striking out 20. Rodriguez had built himself up to a four inning appearance, putting him on the verge of a starter’s workload when Spring Training 1.0 was shut down.
It sure seemed as though Rodriguez was poised to take over the ace mantle this season but it’s unclear how much of a setback this four month layoff has been. The break isn’t quite as long as the duration between the end of a season and the start of training camp the following spring but is it close enough that players essentially need to start over? Is that more of a concern for a pitcher who still hasn’t arrived in camp? Does it ease those concerns that Rodriguez has been able to workout on his own and do some throwing?
These questions are difficult to answer in this unprecedented situation. The closest we can compare it to is a pitcher returning from a long stint on the injured list. Teams would typically give those pitchers a couple of minor league rehab starts before sending them out to face major league lineups. Even if E-Rod were cleared to join the team this weekend, squeezing in two appearances in time for him to be ready for Opening Day would be tough.
A more realistic scenario is that the Red Sox give E-Rod a start in one of the two exhibition games they have scheduled against the Toronto Blue Jays on July 21 and 22. As long as he arrives in Boston sometime next week then there will be time to get him a couple of innings in an intrasquad or simulated game before then. That potentially lines him up to start July 27 against the New York Mets.
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The Red Sox would actually be better off by not rushing Rodriguez back for the first game of the season. Opening Day is an honor that E-Rod was told he had earned so you can imagine his disappointment if he misses out on that opportunity. But do the Red Sox really need their best pitcher to beat the Orioles? If so, we have far bigger problems to worry about.
Starting Rodriguez on Opening Day means his next turn would probably be the first road game of the season against the Mets on July 29. Assuming the Red Sox stick to using their ace every fifth day, Rodriguez would miss the next series against the Yankees. If Boston has any chance to contend in the AL East, they need their best pitcher available against the presumed favorites for the division title.
Allowing Rodriguez to take his time getting ready upon his arrival to camp ensures he has sufficient time to prepare. We saw the club’s plans to limit the workload of their starters in spring training backfire with disastrous results last year.
Rodriguez made only four starts and tossed 15 innings in exhibition last year. He followed that by getting torched for 11 earned runs over his first two regular season starts. Pushing him to be ready after giving him a similar workload to prepare, only with a four-month gap in the middle this time, seems irresponsible.
Nathan Eovaldi is expected to get the nod if E-Rod isn’t ready for Opening Day. Boston’s rotation would be dangerously thin but they can survive as long as Rodriguez can return in the season’s second series. Once the rotation turns over, being at the back end instead of the No. 1 slot will hardly matter.
The Red Sox are hoping for some good news on Rodriguez soon so that he can be ready for Opening Day but perhaps better news would be that he needs to wait a bit longer.