Red Sox: Nathan Eovaldi is finally having his career year
Eovaldi moves to the front of the Red Sox rotation
When the 2020 season finally rolled around, Eovaldi was named as the Opening Day starter, in what was maybe a move based more on necessity than numbers. Sale had been chosen in both 2018 and 2019, but was out for the year. It would’ve been Rodriguez had it not been for COVID.
In what became a season low on reasons for excitement, Eovaldi became one of the reasons to tune in. On Opening Day, he rewarded manager Ron Roenicke with 6 innings of 1-run baseball. Although Eovaldi lost time in September due to a calf strain, he posted one his best statistical seasons, ending with a 3.72 ERA and a 4-2 record with 52 strikeouts in 48.1 innings during the shortened 60-game season.
With 2020 turning to 2021, one of the biggest question marks regarding the Red Sox revolved around the starting rotation. Sale wasn’t expected back until mid-June or July at the earliest. No one knew how Rodriguez would bounce back from his heart condition. The Red Sox re-signed Martín Pérez and signed Garrett Richards. Tanner Houck had been electric in his September call-up, but was still an unknown prospect. It was clear that Eovaldi was going to be called on by the returning Cora to lead the rotation until Sale returned (and perhaps even after that).
Eovaldi has since thrived in the role of ace. Opposing batters are hitting .180 against his curveball and .189 against his split-finger fastball. He is striking out 9.4 batters per 9 innings and his walk rate is the lowest in baseball at 1.6 per 9 innings. He made his first All Star team this season, pitching a scoreless inning (with some help from Xander Bogaerts).
Eovaldi has also showcased different pitching motions, including quick pitch and pausing mechanics. In an interview with The Athletic, Eovaldi explained the reasoning behind this.
"“(I) just started to pause with my splitter and Bushy (Red Sox pitching coach Dave Bush) said well, let’s mix in the slider as well…if you throw the slider you want it down in the dirt because they’re going to be out in front of it already and you want them to chase. It’ll be harder for them to lay off because of their eyesight. I’ve been trying to add more of those into the mix, same thing with the curveball, the splitter and working on the cutter a little.”"
Eovaldi’s ability to add deception to his elite repertoire has allowed him to throw hitters off balance and finally live up to his true potential. He’s gathered the most strikeouts of his career (171) in the second-most innings of his career (163.2), as well is his 3.57 ERA. He allows less than a home run a game (0.8).
Eovaldi has experienced his first truly healthy full season since 2014, making 28 starts to this point, which is also the second-most in his career. He became the most important pitcher for the Red Sox this season, and his success is absolutely crucial if the Red Sox want to hang in the Wild Card race.
Eovaldi becomes a free agent at the end of next season, and if he closes strong this year and replicates this level of success in 2022, the Red Sox are going to need to think about bring him back in some way. At the end of his contract, he’ll be 32, the same age Sale is now. His veteran presence could continue to help young pitchers like Houck and Garrett Whitlock.
Regardless of the future, one thing is for sure — Nathan Eovaldi has officially cemented himself as an elite, top-of-the-line starter — and he has no signs of slowing down anytime soon.