Despite more than six years separating them in age, Red Sox right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (31) and catching prospect Connor Wong (24) actually have a lot in common.
They both hail from the Houston-area, they both received offers to play college baseball for Houston-area schools, they were both drafted by the Dodgers, they were both traded to the Red Sox at one point in their careers, and they are both currently on Boston’s 40-man roster.
With those connections in mind, it does not come as much of a surprise to learn that the pair have virtually become bullpen partners at this point.
The first instance of this arose shortly after spring training was shut down last March due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
At that time, as previously noted by MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo, “Eovaldi returned home to Texas and completely shut down his throwing program for about a month. After ramping back up, he got together with Wong — a fellow Houston area resident — and was able to stretch himself out to five or six innings in simulated outings.”
Putting that work in during the shutdown surely helped Eovaldi put together a solid 2020 campaign in which he posted a 3.72 ERA over nine starts and 48 1/3 innings pitched and head into the offseason with a positive mindset.
Throughout this past offseason, the veteran righty again got together with Wong back home in Texas, as he told NESN’s Tom Caron on Thursday.
“Over the years, I’ve been able to acquire a pretty good workout setup in the garage and everything like that,” Eovaldi said. “So I’ve been able to get all my workouts done. And then this offseason as well, I was able to throw to Connor Wong a lot. So, that was nice having a solid catcher behind the plate and being able to work with him.”
Wong, who was part of the Mookie Betts trade with the Dodgers last February, was added to the Sox’ 40-man roster this past November in order to receive protection from the Rule 5 Draft.
The right-handed hitting backstop is currently regarded by SoxProspects.com as the organization’s No. 22 prospect, ranking second among catchers behind only the recently-acquired Ronaldo Hernandez.
He is currently one of nine catchers (including Kevin Plawecki) at major-league camp in Fort Myers and is projected to begin the 2021 season with Double-A Portland.
As for Eovaldi, the 6-foot-2, 217 lb. hurler is about to embark upon his third full season with the Red Sox and is feeling confident going into a year that could be full of uncertainties, especially for pitchers.
“It’s kind of the unknown for everybody right now,” he said. “A lot of guys weren’t able to get the normal innings that they normally do. We haven’t talked too much about inning limits or control like that yet. And I feel really good coming into spring training. My body feels great, my arm feels fresh, so I’m definitely excited to see what we got.”
As previously mentioned, Eovaldi made just nine starts last year on account of missing a few weeks of action from late August until mid-September due to a right calf strain. But, even while being somewhat limited, the flame-throwing righty put up some of the best numbers of his career in regards to strikeout rate (26.1%), walk rate (3.5%) and swinging-strike percentage (13%).
“I go out there and I try to attack the strike zone,” stated Eovaldi. “I feel like a lot of the times I get behind guys too often and then I have to battle back, and then there’s long at-bats, which end up resulting in walks or hits. So, trying to attack the strike zone, get that first-pitch strike, and stay in the aggressive mode. I think, too, over time you just get to learn your mechanics a little bit better. You find what’s working for you. And then for me, being able to work with [pitching coach Dave Bush, assistant pitching coach-turned-bullpen coach Kevin Walker, and former bullpen coach Craig Bjornson] last year, just really working on my mechanics. And finding what works the best for me was the key to limit my walks.”
In order to replicate the same sort of success he enjoyed last year, Eovaldi will have plenty of work to do over these next few weeks in Fort Myers. He’s been limiting himself to some degree thus far, but that will soon come to an end with Opening Day just less than six weeks away.
“Arm’s ready to go. It feels great. I’ve been trying to control myself out there in the bullpen sessions, hold back a little bit, but we’re going to start ramping it up here soon,” he said.
(Picture of Nathan Eovaldi: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)