Red Sox Spring Training: Eduardo Rodriguez back in action for Boston

FT. MYERS, FL - FEBRUARY 29: Eduardo Rodriguez #57 of the Boston Red Sox delivers during the first inning of a Grapefruit League game against the New York Yankees on February 29, 2020 at jetBlue Park at Fenway South in Fort Myers, Florida. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
FT. MYERS, FL - FEBRUARY 29: Eduardo Rodriguez #57 of the Boston Red Sox delivers during the first inning of a Grapefruit League game against the New York Yankees on February 29, 2020 at jetBlue Park at Fenway South in Fort Myers, Florida. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /
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Eduardo Rodriguez makes his long-awaited return to the Red Sox

Eduardo Rodriguez took the mound for the Red Sox today in spring training action against the Rays, just nine months removed from a shocking and rare myocarditis diagnosis. Rodriguez tested positive for COVID-19 in July of last year and a few weeks later an MRI revealed heart inflammation resulting from the virus. These complications kept him sidelined for the entire 2020 season as he recovered from the illness.

The last time we saw Rodriguez on the mound was in spring training 2020 before the world got turned upside down. In 11 innings spread across 3 appearances, he allowed just 2 hits, 2 walks, and 2 earned runs, while striking out 20 batters.

His strong spring training performance last season followed a breakout 2019 in which he tossed over 200 innings for the first time in his career. He also notched career bests in wins, ERA, strikeouts, and WAR. He finished 6th place in AL Cy Young voting for his efforts.

Boston certainly missed Rodriguez in the rotation last season. In 2020, Red Sox starters compiled the 2nd highest xFIP (behind only Detroit) and lowest WAR in the entire league. In other words, they sucked.

E-Rod isn’t the only arm the Red Sox are looking forward to welcoming back to the staff this season. Chris Sale, who underwent Tommy John surgery last year is expected to make his return, albeit later in the season.

Today’s game featured a starting pitcher rematch from game 4 of the 2018 World Series, as Rodriguez dueled against the former Dodger, Rich Hill. Rodriguez admitted to having chills ahead of outing akin to making his Major League debut.

After striking out the Rays leadoff man, Joey Wendle, Rodriguez was surely able to breathe a sigh of relief. For the first time in 353 days, he was where he belongs. After all, he’d been through in the past year, he was back. Boston’s bats also helped take the pressure off early, putting up 4 runs in the 1st inning.

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The lone run Rodriguez allowed came on a Moises Gomez homer to center. If you’ve never heard of Moises Gomez, you’re not alone. Gomez hasn’t played above High-A ball in his career. The 22-year-old outfielder was the 16th ranked prospect in the Rays organization coming into 2020. At the time, he ranked above Tampa’s future playoff star, and 2020 ALCS MVP, Randy Arozarena. Gomez was the lone blemish on otherwise solid pitching performance.

Rodriguez bookended his outing with another strikeout. He left the mound with two outs in the third, the longest outing of a Red Sox starter so far this spring. Rodriguez finished with 2 hits, 2 strikeouts, 0 walks, and 1 ER in 2 ⅔ innings. The plan for his outing was to go out to the mound three times, which he accomplished and, more importantly, felt & looked good doing it.

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At the end of the day the most important thing today was getting Eduardo back on the mound and back into a live game. He’s done his work in simulated games and live BP, but actually pitching against a real opponent is another thing altogether. E-Rod looked strong in his return to the Red Sox and if he can keep his pace through the remainder of spring training then an Opening Day nod should be a no-brainer.