The soon-to-be 24-year-old Eduardo Rodriguez has already had a roller coaster of a major league baseball career, now heading into just his third season in the big leagues. He’s been through injuries, near no-hitters, more injuries, pitch-tipping issues, and even more injuries. When he’s been healthy, though, he’s shown the world that he can play ball. He’s easily one of the better, more promising pitching prospects that the Red Sox have had in years, despite his inconsistency due to injuries. 2017 could be the year that he finally becomes the reliable starter that Red Sox fans have been waiting for all along, and at the perfect time.
Rodriguez’s rookie season was a memorable one, to say the least. Rodriguez tallied a 10-6 record with a 3.85 ERA in 21 starts, becoming the first Red Sox rookie left-hander to win double digit games since John Curtis back in 1972. After just his third start with the club, Rodriguez possessed a 0.44 ERA and 21 strikeouts over 20.2 innings of work. From then on, he experienced major ups and downs, like any rookie in any sport does, naturally. There were starts in which he gave up 9, 6, 7, 8 earned runs, and times where he wouldn’t give up anymore than 3.
It was only a matter of time until we discovered what was behind his inconsistencies: he had a pitch-tipping issue. This created a firestorm, to say the least, across New England. From then on, all eyes were on him, watching every last one of his moves. It took a while, and a lot of frustrating innings and comments from various coaches, but Rodriguez finally got over this by the end of the 2015 season. Just by watching him a little harder, anyone could tell what pitch was about to be thrown simply by his hand and glove placement and the way he turned his body during his windup. Everyone knows it’s one of the most difficult things in the world, trying to turn a bad habit around, but even more so in this situation when literally the entire country is watching you intently.
Once the 2015 season came to a close, we were on to 2016. Everyone presumed that Rodriguez was going to take a huge leap forward in his career, and rightfully so, but that wasn’t the case. In summary, Rodriguez and everyone else learned that he had bad knees. In medical terms, he subluxated the patella in his right knee while fielding fly balls during popup drills. In layman's terms, he temporarily dislocated his right kneecap. No matter how you put it, it wasn’t a great situation to be in.
The Red Sox downplayed the injury, as the team has done so with literally every single injury they’ve dealt with over the last few years, hopeful that he would be fine and ready to go once April rolled around. Wrong. Rodriguez was held off of the 40-man roster to start the season after not making even a single appearance in Spring Training, missing the first 51 games, and even missing significant time while down in Pawtucket. Rodriguez ended up making his first start on May 31, tossing six innings and only allowing two runs in the win, looking like he was fine and ready to go. Again, wrong. By the end of the month of June and over the course of six starts, he had a 8.59 ERA with a 1-3 record, while striking out the same number of batters as he did in his first three starts in his rookie year over that span. Not great. On June 27, after he allowed a career-high-tying nine runs on a career-high 11 hits, he was optioned back down to Pawtucket once again.
Rodriguez was quickly called back up on July 15, and ended the remainder of the 2016 season on the highest of notes. In his final 14 starts, he recorded a 3.24 ERA while striking out 79 batters and allowing 60 hits over 77.2 innings, his strikeout numbers finally balancing out. He almost pitched a no-hitter against the Athletics in September, and also struck out a career-high 13 versus Tampa Bay. This was everything that the Red Sox wanted to see out of Rodriguez and more, finally showing us the kind of electric and talented pitcher he is and can be for this ball club.
Coming into 2017’s spring training, nobody quite knew what Rodriguez’ role would be, due to the mid-2016 addition of Drew Pomeranz and the explosive offseason addition of Chris Sale. Coming into Spring Training in February, it looked like this rotation would be absolutely stacked, having six solid starters to choose from with Sale, Porcello, Price, Rodriguez, Wright and Pomeranz. This was best-case scenario.
All of that soon came crashing down, once it was announced that Price nearly needed Tommy John surgery, will start the season on the disabled list and won’t be back until May; Pomeranz is starting the season on the 10-day DL; and Wright still isn’t fully healed from that laughable pinch-running incident last summer in Los Angeles. In the blink of an eye, one of the better rotations in all of baseball collapsed into a dumpster fire, and it still isn’t all figured out, with Opening Day just a matter of days away.
Never before have the Red Sox needed Eduardo Rodriguez more than they do right now. He’s currently poised to be the third starter behind Porcello and Sale, barring any injuries (please, God, no). While this isn’t an ideal situation for Boston in any way, this is the perfect time for Rodriguez to prove that he’s capable of starting every five days for his team and being a reliable, consistent starter that gives the Red Sox a chance to win every five days. If Rodriguez can prove in the month (give or take) that Price is out rehabbing that he’s better than Pomeranz and/or Wright, he’ll have no issue remaining in this rotation for the long haul when he needs to the most.
There will, of course, be ups and downs for E-Rod over the course of this season, as there will be for all players, certainly. But, this time around, Rodriguez is going into his third major league season, therefore he kind of knows what to expect already and he knows what his job and role is with Boston. He’s handled the pressure and all of the critics extremely well so far throughout his professional career, so I think this will be a great season for him. I don’t want to call him the Red Sox’ savior, but he might be something like that, in lieu of David Price.
The month of April is going to be a big test not just for Rodriguez himself, but for the rest of the team, too. Everyone knows that they need to step up, and big-time. They have a lot to prove, being coined a ‘super team’ by some certain media outlets. I think that if Rodriguez sticks to his guns and do what he does best, he can be a big help to this ball club, especially in April, and moving forward. He has what it takes to have at least somewhat of a breakout year in 2017, from his mindset, his pitch selection, to his motivation. If he can’t stay healthy, he’ll probably end up being like Clay Buchholz (I’m sorry for bringing him up): inconsistent because of injuries, but when he’s good, he’s pretty damn good, but the good is immediately swept under the rug. I can’t see that being the case, though, thankfully. His Red Sox career has essentially been a gradual buildup to this point. Expect huge things out of the southpaw this year.