Mike Minor knows what it's like to make a move to the bullpen out of necessity, and the Texas Rangers' All-Star left-hander has some advice for how the Boston Red Sox should handle Nathan Eovaldi:
"If he listens to his body and they respect what he says," Minor said, "then I think he'll be all right."
A promising young starter with the Atlanta Braves at the start of the decade, Minor underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in 2015, missing the next two seasons. He made 10 rehab starts in 2016, but couldn't recover after throwing three or four innings.
When the Kansas City Royals signed him in 2017, Minor knew he'd need to move to relief. The results were tremendous. He went 6-6 with a 2.55 ERA and six saves in 65 appearances, striking out a career high 10.2 batters per nine innings. That performance earned him a three-year deal with the Rangers, who returned him to the rotation, and Minor repaid their gamble by making the 2019 All-Star team after going 8-4 with a 2.54 ERA and league-leading two complete games.
But focusing on his season as a reliever, the 31-year-old former college teammate of David Price relayed some lessons the Red Sox can apply as Eovaldi transitions to closing following April elbow surgery.
"It was a constant conversation of how do you feel each day and how do you feel multiple innings, multiple up and downs, multiple days, whatever it was," Minor said at the All-Star Game in Cleveland. "But that was essential for my success and where I am now, because at the time I just couldn't handle it."
Reaching the point where he felt comfortable telling his manager and coaches he wasn't available wasn't easy for Minor, and Eovaldi won't have a lot of time to feel out the process down the stretch.
"At the beginning, I kind of wanted to be a regular dude and I found myself still fatigued a little bit and telling them yes anyway, and once I did that a couple of times, I knew how my body was reacting," Minor said.
He realized that he could tell pregame or even when he woke up in the morning whether he'd be available that day, but it took some trial and error.
"There's a couple of times where you're sore, but you're like, 'I'll just pitch through it. I'm going to be a normal dude and throw through it,'" Minor said. "And then I get in the game and they're depending on you to be one of the guys coming out of the bullpen in situations with guys on base or whatever, and then if I didn't feel good, it's like, 'Man, what am I doing? I'm hurting the team.'"
Minor soon found his sweet spot, and then built from there.
"If they threw me one inning and it was one time up, get warm, go in the game, pitch, and then I'm done, then I could go multiple days," he said. "But if it was get warm in the bullpen, go out there get one out, sit down, get back up, go back out, pitch an inning, sit down, go back and out and get a lefty, that kind of the thing, then the up-and-down kind of got me."
The Red Sox have eschewed the use of a traditional closer all season, but Minor considers it a must if they want to get the most out of Eovaldi. And the more traditional, the better.
"They shouldn't give him the long relief role. That just negates everything," Minor said. "So if he's a late-inning guy and he's only going one inning and only getting three outs and they're only warming him up if they're winning, then he should be in a lot better situation than a guy that might have to warm up a couple of times, get hot, sit down, get hot again. That kills you out there. Fans and even coaches don't realize it. If you've never pitched before, you don't realize how much you're abusing yourself and exerting energy and getting sore the next day.
"If he's in that situation, that's going to be the best one, even though he's going to be high leverage. It's going to be him probably throwing 100 out there or whatever."
While the Red Sox are concerned about the here and now, there's also the longer-term question of Eovaldi's return to the rotation, which is what earned him a four-year, $68 million contract in the first place. Minor has insight into that process, too.
As the 2017 season wore on, he realized he didn't need to close the door on starting, because he was feeling stronger.
"I sensed it because they put me out there in a tie game and we didn't really have anyone left, and there were a lot of times I went two innings, a couple of times I went three," he said. "And then I woke up the next couple of days and felt fine, and that's what made me think, OK, maybe I can do this now. Maybe my body has acclimated itself and I know what kind of soft tissue work I need, what kind of shoulder workouts I need, maybe I'm ready for that.'
"When I signed with Texas, they gave me the six-man rotation thing last year, so they kind of told me about that. We might skip you, ease you in this, so I said this is the best situation for me. We did that last year and this year it's just hey, go out there and do your thing and it's been great so far."
So if the Red Sox navigate the situation delicately, Minor sees no reason why Eovaldi can't succeed in the bullpen and then rejoin the rotation in 2020.
"If he's healthy and feels good, it could be a good thing for him," he said. "Even though he signed that contract and wants to start, get that full value out of him, if it's half a season or a third of a season in the bullpen, he's still going to provide a lot of value, just like he did in the playoffs."
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