Eduardo Rodriguez

Red Sox rotation off to worst start to the season in franchise history

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File photo

Red Sox rotation off to worst start to the season in franchise history

Yes, it's true: this is the worst start to a season by a Red Sox rotation. Ever.

After another mediocre outing from erstwhile ace Chris Sale that had the left-hander apologizing for embarrassing his family and teammates in an 8-0 loss to New York on Tuesday, the Red Sox found themselves holding a dubious distinction.

Per the Elias Sports Bureau, no Red Sox rotation has ever posted a higher ERA through 18 games than this one. The 7.18 mark tops the 1931 team, which posted a 6.96 ERA en route to a 62-90 finish, 45 games behind the AL-champion A's.

If you've heard of any of the pitchers on that team, you're a bigger fan than most of us. Nine pitchers made starts in 1931, led by Somerville High's Danny McFayden (16-12, 4.02), Jack Russell (10-18, 5.16), Wilcy Moore (11-13, 3.88), and Milt Gaston (2-13, 4.46).

Those pitchers combined to make one All-Star team over 49 combined seasons. This Red Sox rotation features two Cy Young Award winners (Rick Porcello, David Price), one perennial Cy Young candidate (Sale), and the 2018 postseason hero (Nathan Eovaldi).

They've won two Cy Youngs, finished in the top six 10 other times, made 12 All-Star teams, and contributed to a championship. Their pedigree is just a *little* better than their 1931 brethren, and yet they find themselves with just two wins (1 each for Eduardo Rodriguez and Price) and three quality starts (aforementioned duo and Sale).

Sale has only topped four strikeouts once in four starts, while Eovaldi has yet to pitch more than five innings, and Porcello has yet to reach five innings.

Price and E-Rod are coming off of good starts, and Sale finally pumped his velocity back up to 97 mph on Tuesday, so perhaps the tide is starting to turn, but for now, it's no stretch to label this rotation historically awful.

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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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Highlights of the Red Sox' 6-4 victory over the Orioles

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USA TODAY Sports photo

Highlights of the Red Sox' 6-4 victory over the Orioles

FINAL SCORE: Red Sox 6, Orioles 4

IN BRIEF:  Eduardo Rodriguez gave the Red Sox only their second quality start of the season, allowing two runs in 6 2/3 innings and Andrew Benintendi hit his first homer of 2019 as the Sox beat the Orioles 6-4 at Fenway Park to win back-to-back games for the first time this season. BOX SCORE
 

RED SOX RECORD: 5-9

HIGHLIGHTS:

3rd inning:
Andrew Benintendi solo homer to left off Davis Hess (1-0 BOS).

4th inning:
Xander Bogaerts double to center scores Mitch Moreland (2-0 BOS).
Eduardo Nunez single to left scores Bogaerts (3-0 BOS).

7th inning:
Dwight Smith Jr. two-run homer off Eduardo Rodriguez also scores Trey Mancini (3-2 BOS).

Christian Vazquez scores on a wild pitch by Evan Phillips (4-2 BOS).

8th inning:
Obligatory Jackie Bradley Jr. great catch:

J.D. Martinez scores on Eduardo Nunez infield single (5-2 BOS).

Xander Bogaerts scores on Bradley sac fly (6-2 BOS).

9th inning:
Renato Nunez two-run homer off Tyler Thornburg, Mancini also scores (6-4 BOS).


UP NEXT:

Vs. Orioles, Saturday, 1:05 p.m., NESN
Vs. Orioles, Sunday, 1:05 p.m., NESN
Vs. Orioles, Monday, 11:05 a.m., NESN

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