Eduardo Rodriguez

Eduardo Rodriguez quest for 20 wins might be only reason left to watch Red Sox

Eduardo Rodriguez quest for 20 wins might be only reason left to watch Red Sox

BOSTON -- The quest for 20 continues.

The Red Sox have nothing left to play for except pride and individual achievements, and they've crossed a few off the list recently with 50 doubles each for Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers, 30 homers for Devers, and 130 runs for Mookie Betts.

The biggest item on the to-do list, however, might be getting left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez to 20 wins, a plateau last reached by a Red Sox starter during Rick Porcello's Cy Young-winning 2016 season, when he went 22-4.

E-Rod improved to 18-6 on Thursday with six innings of one-run ball in a 5-4 win over the Giants, and the run was unearned. The victory didn't come without some palpitations, however, as the visitors loaded the bases with nobody out in the ninth and the Red Sox leading 5-3.

Closer Brandon Workman escaped the mess largely of his own making by walking in one but eventually striking out the side to keep Rodriguez on track for what would be one of the more improbable 20-win seasons in team annals.

"He's had a hell of a season," Workman said. "He's thrown the ball really well. I think he's knocking on the door of 200 innings as well. So if he can be 20 wins, 200 innings, that's benchmarks in two different areas for starters. So that would be incredible."

It hasn't been a fluke, especially not recently. Rodriguez struggled early in the season to command his fastball up in the zone, but once he recognized the damage he could do above the letters at 95 mph, especially when paired with a vicious changeup below the knees, he took off.

He struck out 10 on Thursday and walked only two, lowering his ERA to 3.53, which is good for seventh in the American League. He has two starts remaining to win two games and throw the final 8.2 innings he needs to reach 200 for the first time.

"He's been outstanding," said manager Alex Cora. "What else can we say? It's been going on for a while. Now you see the strikeouts way up there and the walks staying low. He's put in a great season."

Rodriguez is slated to start Tuesday in Texas and then at home against Baltimore in the season finale a week from Sunday. If he wins the first start, he'll be given every opportunity to claim the second, which would come against the team that signed him as an amateur free agent in 2010 before trading him to the Red Sox for reliever Andrew Miller in 2010.

Rodriguez is also virtually guaranteed to surpass the 200-strikeout threshold for the first time, because he sits at 199.

"I mean, I have two more starts and just go out there and try to do the best I can and give us a chance to win those games," Rodriguez said. "Just go out there and perform and try to be good again. At the beginning of the season, I was really thinking, go 200 innings. That was all my goal this year, go 200 innings, 30-plus starts and I made the 30-plus already so now I'm looking for the 200 innings. 200 strikeouts, that's something you can't control. You go out there and execute the pitches and if they swing and miss, they strike out, so if it happens, it happens."

Rodriguez returned to that phrase when it comes to 20 wins, but Cora said the rest of the team is intent on helping him get there.

"Twenty wins is something the guys are pushing for me right now and if it happens, it happens," Rodriguez said. "You know how baseball is. You can have a game of one run or no runs and still get a no-decision. It all depends on how the games are going to go."

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Alex Cora: Eduardo Rodriguez has been "throwing like an ace" all season

Alex Cora: Eduardo Rodriguez has been "throwing like an ace" all season

After another superb outing against the Phillies Saturday night, Eduardo Rodriguez earned high praise from his manager Alex Cora. 

"He’s throwing like an ace," Cora said on NESN postgame. "We’re very happy with the progress. The fact that it’s Sept. 14, 15, and he’s as strong as early in the season. That’s good to see.”

Rodriguez didn't secure his 18th win of the year thanks to a seventh-inning walk with the bases loaded, but that doesn't take away from a 12-strikeout performance.

Rodriguez now has a 3.64 ERA in over 185 innings pitched. The Sox need Rodriguez to come into his own if they hope to stay in contention long term, and he continues to show progress toward reaching his potential. 

Rodriguez still has a chance to get to 20 wins, but he'll have to win each of the three starts he has left in 2019. 

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Red Sox LHP Eduardo Rodriguez is finally figuring it out, and 20 wins are within reach

eduardo_rodriguez_090519.jpg
USA TODAY Sports Photo

Red Sox LHP Eduardo Rodriguez is finally figuring it out, and 20 wins are within reach

BOSTON -- Three more wins and Eduardo Rodriguez finishes the season with . . . 20?!?

The Red Sox couldn't have asked for a better best-case-scenario out of their fifth starter. They've long pushed him to maintain his consistency from start to start and to pitch deeper into games. In 2019, at age 26, he is finally figuring it all out, which means a legitimate milestone is within reach.

On Wednesday, E-Rod shut out the thundering Twins offense for seven innings in a 6-2 victory that gives him 17 wins on the season. Reaching the 20 threshold won't be easy. If he stays on his regular turn, he'll make four starts the rest of the way: at home vs. the Yankees this weekend, at Philadelphia, at Tampa, and at Texas.

"For me, it's not important for right now to win 20 games," Rodriguez said. "For me, it's more important to give the team a chance to make the postseason. That's our goal as a team. Make it to the postseason. If 20 wins come or not, I'm just going to be happy if we make it to the playoffs."

With that goal entirely out of the team's hands — the only contender left the Red Sox play is Tampa — Rodriguez may have to settle for individual glory, but at least he is earning it.

He leads the American League in starts (29) and he has an outside shot of reaching 200 innings and 200 strikeouts, each for the first time in his career, if he can average seven innings and eight K's over his final four appearances.

He's 17-5 with a career-best 3.81 ERA, and he has really come on of late, with an 11-1 record in his last 16 starts. He has thrown at least seven shutout innings in three of his last four turns.

In a season that has seen starters Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, and Nathan Eovaldi limited by either injury, ineffectiveness, or both, Rodriguez has been the one bright spot in an otherwise dismal rotation.

"Like I've been saying all along, he didn't have to be David or Chris or Rick or Nate," said manager Alex Cora. "Eduardo Rodriguez is a good pitcher and he has good stuff and we saw that last year."

If Rodriguez can win 20, he'll join a select group in recent Red Sox history. Since 1978, when a young Dennis Eckersley turned the trick, only six other starters have reached the milestone: Porcello, Josh Beckett, Curt Schilling, Derek Lowe, Pedro Martinez (twice), and Roger Clemens (three times). Porcello is the only pitcher on that list never to make an All-Star team, but he won the Cy Young award in 2016.

That suggests even better things lay ahead for E-Rod, who doesn't even turn 27 until April.

"Potential is great," Cora said. "We know that. It's like, that's great, but there are a lot of people that just stay with that and they don't take the next step and he took the challenge, made some adjustments and now he's doing what he's doing."

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