FORY MYERS, Fla. (AP) — Flanked by higher profile starters, left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez spent much of the past few seasons mostly out of the limelight — and, at times, on the injured list.
Until last season, that is.
In 2019, Rodriguez stepped out of the very large shadows cast by fellow left-handers David Price and Chris Sale and finally delivered on the promise the Red Sox sensed when they acquired him from Baltimore at the 2014 trade deadline.
Rodriguez went 19-6 with a 3.81 ERA, posting career bests in wins, ERA, starts (34), innings (203 1/3), and strikeouts (213). He tied for the major league lead in starts, his 19 wins were third in the majors and he finished sixth in AL Cy Young voting, his first time in the top 10.
With Price now gone to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the trade with Mookie Betts, plus Sale starting the season on the injured list after being delayed this spring by pneumonia, interim manager Ron Roenicke will lean heavily on Rodriguez.
“He’s huge,” Roenicke said before Boston’s 5-2 loss to the visiting split-squad New York Yankees on Saturday. “When you go through different series, you always want to feel like you have a couple guys that can stop anything that’s going on that’s not good.”
Rodriguez looked good against the Yankees, striking out six in three scoreless innings.
“To have somebody — and that’s why a No. 1 is so important, whether it’s E-Rod or whether it’s Chris. You have a couple bad games and then you got them pitching and then you win the game. And you feel like every time they go out there, you feel really good about winning the game,” he said.
“So, it’s important. Before you go into a game, when you talk about mojo and things, it’s real. … When you have those type of pitchers going there it makes everybody feel like, ‘Hey, we got our big guy going today and we should win,'” he said.
Eddie’s back for 2020. pic.twitter.com/VJPxkzgm5E
— Red Sox (@RedSox) February 29, 2020
The biggest difference last season for Rodriguez, who turns 27 on April 7, was health. He had a full spring training to prepare — the only Red Sox starter with a full spring — and got through the season without problems from his right knee, which had sidelined him for stretches in the previous three seasons, eventually requiring surgery after the 2017 season.
Rodriguez believes that if he can stay healthy, there’s no reason he can’t duplicate what he did last season.
“Last year was the first time that I threw 200 innings, went out there every start, the whole season. Now I know how to keep my body ready,” he said. “If you go 200 innings, you’re going to have a really good ERA, good wins and the rest is going to happen.”
Rodriguez, who turns 27 on April 7, is the presumptive opening day pitcher, which would be his first time in that role. He’s not worried about labels, though.
“I don’t care too much about that,” he said. “I just like to go out there every five days.”