Red Sox

Rodriguez ends Red Sox starters' drought with help from a certain Hall of Famer

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Rodriguez ends Red Sox starters' drought with help from a certain Hall of Famer

BOSTON - It took two weeks and a visit from the worst team in the American League, but the Red Sox rotation finally has its first win of 2019.

It's a testament to the Stranger Things-esque start to this season that the 6-4 win over the Orioles didn't go to ace Chris Sale, former Cy Young Award winners David Price or Rick Porcello, or postseason hero Nathan Eovaldi. The Sox instead journeyed into the Upside Down, where the eternally tantalizing Eduardo Rodriguez finally delivered.

Featuring his best changeup since 2018, Rodriguez toyed with the woeful Orioles, carrying a perfect game into the fifth and a shutout into the seventh. He left after allowing a two-run homer in the seventh, his final line read: 6 2/3 innings, three hits, two runs, zero walks, and eight strikeouts. He recorded a career-high 21 swings and misses, including 10 on his changeup.

Even acknowledging that the Orioles aren't exactly good, it was still an encouraging sign for the Red Sox, who have been desperate for a quality start from someone, anyone over the season's first 15 days.

They were the last team in baseball without a win from a starter, but Rodriguez snapped that streak by coming out with a 97-mph fastball and then shifting to a late-acting changeup the second time through the order. The Orioles had no answer for him until a clean single to left by Hanser Alberto in the fifth, and a two-run homer from Dwight Smith on what was actually a decent pitch in the seventh.

"There was conviction, great tempo, execution," said manager Alex Cora. "We've needed a start like this for two weeks. He went out there and did an outstanding job."

Rodriguez perpetually feels like a work in progress, partly because of injuries, and partly because he's often searching. He has reinvented his delivery and mechanics multiple times since joining the Red Sox, but in the days leading up to Friday's start, he decided to return to basics, with the aid of a franchise icon.

Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez helped Rodriguez restore the delivery he featured at the start of his career, with a focus on being less rigid in his upper body. The results, for one night, anyway, spoke eloquently.

"This past week, in between starts, I was working with Pedro over there in the bullpen," Rodriguez explained. "I changed my mechanics to go back to when I got to the big leagues. We worked on it in the bullpen, on flat ground, everything. As soon as I got in the game, I see the first pitch was 94, 95. I said, 'I've got my fastball.' I was in command. I started throwing it a lot more. I was feeling really good.

"I was throwing the ball a little bit stiff," Rodriguez added. "I was feeling a little bit stiff in my upper body. I needed to get more smooth, more and more of my body, pretty good rhythm."

Catcher Christian Vazquez noted the difference on the radar gun and consistently signaled fastball until it came time to mix things up, at which point Rodriguez unleashed a dominant mid-80s changeup.

"That's his pitch," Vazquez said. "That's the best pitch for him, the changeup. That's why he's in the big leagues. I think if the changeup is good, it's going to be a good night for him. If [the fastball] is 97, 95, you throw that good changeup, they're going to be in front, it's going to be weak contact or swing and miss."

The importance of this one to a reeling Red Sox rotation can't be overstated. Cora hopes it leads to better things as the team regains its footing with consecutive wins after a 3-9 start.

"We've been waiting for this, man," Cora said. "We're going to be fine. We just have to play better baseball, and it starts with the starters, and we know they're going to turn it around. Today was the beginning. Tomorrow, we have Rick Porcello. I can go to bed and tomorrow wake up like, yeah, we've got Rick Porcello on the mound, and we expect him to go deep in the game, and then the next day is David Price. And the next day is Hector [Velazquez], and he's going to give us more than three innings. Then we have [Chris] Sale and Nate [Eovaldi]. That's why, on a nightly basis, we feel very comfortable. People go through slumps. Maybe we went through ours already."

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Don't look now, but Red Sox are finally making a case to join the class of the American League

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Don't look now, but Red Sox are finally making a case to join the class of the American League

Now we're talking.

Sweeping the Royals before losing five of six to the Rays and Texas told us nothing. Sweeping the Orioles after salvaging a split with the Rangers suggested cautious optimism.

But after taking two of three from the American League-leading Twins to run their overall streak to seven wins in eight games, it's fair to say that the Red Sox are ba--.

They're ba--. They're BA--. They're …

No need to get ahead of ourselves declaring them back. Let's just accept that they're playing much better baseball at a point in the season where they can make up legitimate ground in the AL East before entering the All-Star break feeling a lot better about their chances of contending than they did even two weeks ago.

"It's been a topic of everybody," manager Alex Cora told reporters in Minnesota following a 9-4 victory over the Twins. "It's a team, they've got forty-whatever wins, and the best record in the American League [48-25]. We came here and yesterday we played a great game, we bounced back today, we won the first one.

"They have a good team, but we do, too. We're playing a lot better lately. Now we go home. We know we've got to play better at home. That's the next step, the next challenge. We've got six games [homestand], so go over there and start dominating at Fenway."

The Red Sox can talk about dominating with a straight face because they finally claimed a series against a good team after a series of misfires. The Twins began the night with a 10-game lead over the Indians in the AL Central, but they ran into a Red Sox squad determined to remind everyone it's actually better.

After taking the opener Monday with a crisp 2-0 victory behind Rick Porcello and just enough offense, the Red Sox dropped the follow-up Tuesday in 17 innings. Cora insisted that the team would bounce back in much the same way it did after losing Game 3 of the World Series in 18 innings, earning some criticism for believing his own propaganda.

But just as the Red Sox returned to Dodger Stadium the next night and claimed Game 4 before closing out the series on enemy soil, on Wednesday they hammered Minnesota pitching for nine runs, pulling away after blowing a 3-2 lead.

"I don't know. We had a tough time the first night because [Jose] Berrios, he's a good pitcher, but we won the game," infielder Brock Holt told reporters. "Last night, you start playing that many innings, guys maybe get a little antsy to try to do a little bit too much. And then tonight we tried to focus.  

"I feel like our situational hitting was pretty solid tonight. When we got a guy on third, we got him in, for the most part. It's just better approaches tonight, I think guys kind of didn't try to do too much, and we just tried to get those extra runs in when we had a chance."

After going 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position on Tuesday, the Red Sox bounced back in a big way, going 7-for-14 and driving Twins starter Kyle Gibson from the game in the fifth after working him for seven hits and five walks.

"We knew last night was rough for us," Holt told reporters. "We had opportunities to score last night in multiple innings and we didn't, to win games you've got to score when you have chances and tonight we were able to do that. So that's something that we probably haven't done as good as we should this year, so it's just something we need to focus on putting together better at-bats with runners in scoring position."

With the Yankees hammering the Rays to complete a sweep, the Red Sox actually ended up losing a game in the standings to New York this week and trail in the division by 6.5 games, but they pulled within three games of Tampa Bay for second place.

They now host the lowly Blue Jays and middling White Sox for six games before jetting to England for a two-game set vs. the Yankees.

It may be too soon to say they're officially back, but at least they're finally rolling.

"Yeah, it was good, especially after last night's game, we could have come in and kind of been dragging today, but to come out tonight and take two of three from a good team over there, a good road trip for us," Holt said. "We're excited about the off day tomorrow, get some guys some breaks and get back out there."

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Devers day-to-day with hamstring injury after early exit

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Devers day-to-day with hamstring injury after early exit

Rafael Devers has been one of the Red Sox' most consistent hitters this season, but they may be without him for a little bit.

Devers left the 9-4 victory over the Twins in the fourth inning with right hamstring tightness. After the game, manager Alex Cora said that Devers is "day-to-day" and they would probably stay away from him Friday when the Sox return home to open a three-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays after an off day Thursday.

Devers, 22, went 2-for-3 on Wednesday before leaving to raise his batting average to .307. The left-handed hitting third baseman has 12 homers and is second on the team with 47 RBI. 

Devers was on the injured list three times last season, including twice with a left hamstring issue. Eduardo Nunez took over at third Wednesday and the Sox also have utility men Brock Holt and Marco Hernandez who can play third.

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