After a busy weekend, the 2020 season is starting to take shape for the Red Sox.
Nathan Eovaldi will start Friday's opener vs. the Orioles. Erstwhile ace Eduardo Rodriguez is back with the team and admits that COVID-19 hit him like a truck. Veteran Collin McHugh, once an intriguing depth option, announced that he won't play at all, thanks to an elbow that hasn't responded as well as he would've liked to after rehab.
Let's take these developments in order and give them a little context.
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First, Eovaldi. With Rodriguez on the injured list and the next best option to start the opener either pitching coach Dave Bush or broadcaster Dennis Eckersley, there was never a doubt the right-hander would take the ball on Friday.
Manager Ron Roenicke is already on record that with such uncertainty permeating the rotation, Eovaldi will need not only to provide length, but quality.
Considering 2019, when Eovaldi delivered precious little of either while battling an elbow injury, this shortened season represents a chance for him to make amends at the halfway point of a four-year, $68 million contract.
"It's going to be my first one, so I'm definitely excited for it," Eovaldi said. "I'll take it any way I can get it, so I'm excited for it, ready for it."
Eovaldi is one of the few bright spots on a pitching staff that has collectively struggled during intrasquad scrimmages in what chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom describes as a mildly demoralizing zero-sum game. If the pitchers perform, it means the hitters have been shut down, and vice versa, making this the rare spring where it's hard for both the offense and pitching to emerge feeling positive.
Eovaldi is an exception, thanks to a triple-digits fastball, as well as his arrival at second camp with midseason stamina. In his final appearance on Sunday, he threw six innings of two-run ball.
"You always have your challenges," Eovaldi said. "It's nice that everybody is going through it at the same time, but we had an idea when we were going to start back up, so I was making sure I was going to be prepared then. So coming in I felt like I got my work in. I was able to scale back and then work back up, so I definitely feel like I'm ready to go."
The same cannot be said for Rodriguez. He had the misfortune of catching the coronavirus at home in Miami, and it knocked him for a loop.
"I mean, for me, I was feeling all the symptoms," Rodriguez said. "All the symptoms you can see on Google. I was feeling headaches, fever, all that. It hit me really hard."
Rodriguez's struggles with COVID offer a harsh reminder that just because they're athletes in their physical primes doesn't mean they'll beat every case without symptoms. Over the weekend, Braves All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman admitted wondering if he might die when his fever spiked at 104.5 degrees.
"Little by little, that first day that I started feeling a little bit like a headache and kind of fever, I knew I had something in my body that I never feel before," Rodriguez said. "I just went home — stayed at home the whole time. I started to feel the symptoms and even before I got the confirmation that I got COVID ... I knew 90 percent that it was going to be COVID, you know?"
There's a lesson in here not just for the Red Sox, but any sport attempting to navigate these waters — a player who contracts the virus might need more than 14 days to regain his strength. It's a lesson the NBA, NHL, and NFL should heed closely before opening their own doors.
Of course, some players will choose to stay home, and McHugh is one of them. Thus far, the opt-out class has generally featured more financially secure players like Dodgers left-hander David Price, Giants catcher Buster Posey, or Braves right-hander Felix Hernandez, who boast two Cy Young Awards and an MVP between them.
McHugh is different. He's coming off a flexor strain that limited his effectiveness in Houston last season before shutting him down in late August. When the Red Sox signed him this spring, it was in the hopes that he'd be available by June or July.
Instead, he's heading home to join his wife and family, done in as much by his injury as the pandemic.
"His arm is not coming around like he had hoped," Roenicke said. "And he knew that probably he was going to have to spend some time on the IL and if he was going to do that, with what's going on, and with the pandemic, he would feel better if he was at home with his family during that time. That's the decision that he has made. We support it. We know it was a tough decision for him, and he did tell me he felt bad, but this is what he felt was best for he and his family."
Hard to argue with that logic, and it remains to be seen how many other athletes follow his lead. What it means for the Red Sox is one fewer veteran arm to compete for innings in a starting rotation startlingly thin on talent.