CLEVELAND -- Nathan Eovaldi is back in the Red Sox rotation. Kind of. Maybe.
The right-hander's lost season continued its search for meaning with the announcement earlier Tuesday that he'll likely start Wednesday afternoon's series finale vs. the Indians -- provided he was not needed in relief on Tuesday night.
Well, turns out he was needed in a big way. Eovaldi got a strikeout and a comebacker to preserve a 6-5 lead in the eighth with the tying run at second in the Red Sox' 7-6, 10-inning victory. His six-pitch outing could conceivably still have him available as an "opener" on Wednesday, but after the game, manager Alex Cora said lefty Brian Johnson will get the start and Eovaldi will be available out of the bullpen.
Eovaldi, who signed a four-year, $68 million contract after a heroic postseason, has been limited to four starts by loose bodies in his elbow, which required April surgery that kept him out until July. He shifted to the bullpen in the hopes of playing savior again, but has instead posted a 6.75 ERA while allowing runs in five of his nine outings before Tuesday.
And despite the recent relief outings, he's apparently returning in the rotation, Cora said before the game. Is this the start of stretching Eovaldi back out to rejoin the rotation?
"Let's start with tomorrow and see where it takes us but there's a pretty good chance," Cora said. "The thinking behind is to beat the Indians first. I think he gives us the best shot to do it tomorrow if he starts. Like I said, we're going to be creative. I think we've got a good chance to get on a run if we pitch well early in games. Obviously, he's done it before. We counted on him before the season to do that."
The yo-yo nature of Eovaldi's season speaks to his struggles. He opened the season in the rotation, was briefly considered a candidate to close, became more of a long man, failed to convert some high-leverage relief appearances (until Tuesday) and is eventually, slated to return to the rotation.
"He's been OK," Cora said of Eovaldi the reliever. "I mean, 0-2 homer, 0-2 single, it's part of it. The other day it was the seeing-eye singles that tied the game against Kansas City. The stuff is playing. I think the mix of pitches. I don't want to say he's in between, but sometimes, as a reliever, you have to simplify it and not go what he usually does. He did it before, but it obviously it's a different stage."
Cora declined to label the Eovaldi experiment in relief a failure.
"I mean, we haven't used him, we haven't pitched that much also," he said. "It's one of those, now with the off days, we can be creative. This is one way to be creative."
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