BOSTON - Eduardo Rodriguez spent spring training under the watchful eye of his rotation-mates, including Cy Young Award winners Rick Porcello and David Price, as well as perennial contender Chris Sale. They spent mornings on back fields honing E-Rod's new pitch, a slider he hoped to incorporate into his repertoire as a complement to his fastball and changeup.
Sale owns the best slider in the game. Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez even got in the fun, offering pointers on how he might grip it.
"If it works, I'll throw it," Rodriguez said in February. "It's spring training. Doesn't hurt the numbers on the back of your baseball card."
Fast-forward two months to Wednesday night, and suddenly Rodriguez's slider was no longer a theoretical offering, but a legitimate one. He threw 16 in an 11-4 victory over the Tigers, only two of which ended up in play. The pitch featured good action down and in to right-handed hitters and gave the Tigers something else to ponder as E-Rod carried a no-hitter into the fifth before settling for six innings of two-hit, one-run ball. He struck out seven and walked three.
So, who gets the credit for this new pitch? Sale? Price? Pedro?
Try Dustin Pedroia.
It sounds crazy, but Rodriguez recounted a conversation the two had in the dugout over the weekend in Tampa.
"Hey, do you want to throw a really nasty breaking ball?" Pedroia asked.
"Yeah, bro," Rodriguez replied. "I've been battling to throw a breaking ball since I got here in the big leagues, since I was in the minor leagues."
Rodriguez laughed while relaying the exchange.
"He told me to throw the ball like this and hold it like that, and two days ago I started throwing it with my knee over there, and it's funny, because the first time I threw that kind of breaking ball was today and it was working," Rodriguez said. "So I've just got to say thanks to him."
This begs so many questions. Did Pedroia actually teach him the grip?
"The grip, he showed me the grip, and I started doing it two days ago, and I told him, bro, I'm going to throw that today, and you tell me how it is, and I think it worked pretty good," Rodriguez said.
How does Pedroia know how to throw a slider?
"I don't know," Rodriguez said. "He just told me that he was throwing that when he was in school. He just told me how to throw it and I've got to say thank you to him."
Is it a slider or a curveball?
"I don't know," Rodriguez said. "Whatever you want to call it. Just something that goes right where I wanted."
This is the Rodriguez the Red Sox have been waiting to see. They've won his past three starts, and even though his ERA remains an unsightly 5.88, that's seven runs lower than it stood after his first two starts, losses to Seattle and Oakland that saw him surrender 12 runs in eight innings.
"You guys know I'm hard on him, but everybody is because we know how good he can be," said manager Alex Cora. "It's good to see him compete at this level this way and we expect him to do that every time he goes out there, to go deep into games, and dominate."
Who knew? All it took to put him over the hump was an assist from an unlikely pitching guru.
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