For the first time in nearly a year, Red Sox right-hander Nathan Eovaldi threw in front of fans on Sunday in the team’s Grapefruit League opener against the Twins.
Pitching in front of approximately 2,200 spectators at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, the 31-year-old was able to get some adrenaline flowing even before he took the mound in the first inning.
“Driving into the ballpark, there’s a lot of cars waiting to get in,’ Eovaldi said via Zoom. “They say 24% [capacity], you don’t know what that’s going to look like. Everybody’s spaced out, it looks like a full ballpark. So it’s exciting having the fans in there. They’re heckling a little bit. That’s part of the game, you miss it. Juices were definitely flowing. You’re facing another team in the batter’s box, you’re not facing your guys anymore, and you got the fans cheering. So it’s baseball again. It feels good.”
Eovaldi surrendered two earned runs on two hits, one walk, and one hit batsman to go along with two strikeouts over 1 1/3 innings of work on Sunday. He needed 38 pitches to record those four outs, 23 of which went for strikes.
“I was just excited,” said Eovaldi when asked to evaluate his performance. “I felt like I was rushing through my delivery. For the most part, my offspeed wasn’t very good. I felt like my fastball was good. The cutter I felt like was the best pitch today, I felt like I was locating it pretty well. Curveball was good. The slider and splitter not so much.”
Per Baseball Savant, the Houston native threw 18 four-seam fastballs, 10 cutters, five splitters, and five curveballs. It’s likely some of the sliders he threw registered as cutters.
Out of those 38 pitches thrown, Eovaldi eclipsed 97 mph 14 times, 98 mph nine times, and 99 mph four times. All in all, he topped out at 99.5 mph with his heater and averaged 97.9 mph on the radar gun with it.
“I’ve been feeling good all camp,” said the fireballer. “I feel like the velocity’s been there earlier on in the live BPs. In the offseason I have access to to one of the Rapsodos (performance measurement devices) as well, so I know the velocity’s been there. It’s usually not one of the things I have to worry about when getting ready.”
While velocity was not an area of concern for Eovaldi on Sunday, he did attribute some of his early struggles to how quickly he was moving on the mound, or his tempo, which is something he feels he can improve upon for his next outing.
“We’ll get back to the grind,” he said. “I think I got six days in between now, so I’ll be facing the Twins again at home. Body’s feeling good. I got the work in that I wanted to get. I got to work out of the stretch, deep into counts, all that. So overall, it’s obviously not what I wanted results-wise, but I got the work in and that was the main thing and I feel good.”
As he said himself, Eovaldi’s next start will come against the Twins at JetBlue Park next Saturday since the Red Sox are utilizing a six-man rotation to begin the spring.
“My arm feels good. As long as my tempo is there, the pitches are consistent,” Eovaldi stated. “I had times today where my tempo was there. It’s just the rhythm of my mechanics. It allows me to get out front and execute the pitches well. Today, I was excited and rushing through everything, so it was not as crisp as I would like it.”
Eovaldi, who turned 31 earlier this month, is on track to open the 2021 season — his third full campaign with the Sox — as the club’s No. 2 starter.
(Picture of Nathan Eovaldi: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports)