Through the first three innings of his second start of the spring on Sunday afternoon, Nathan Eovaldi was moving right along.
The veteran right-hander had retired 9 of the first 11 Twins hitters he faced at Hammond Stadium, with the only damage coming on a leadoff home run off the bat of Byron Buxton to begin the bottom half of the third.
After escaping the third while stranding another base runner, Eovaldi headed into his fourth and final frame of work with a respectable pitch count of 41 as he looked to end his outing on a positive note.
Instead, the 31-year-old hurler saw Minnesota tack on an additional three runs on an additional five hits — including a hard-hit two-run double from Miguel Sano and softly-hit RBI single from Andrelton Simmons — before eventually retiring the side by getting Max Kepler to ground out to second.
At the end of the day, Eovaldi finished with a final pitch count of 65 (41 strikes) while yielding four earned runs on seven hits and zero walks to go along with three punchouts over those four innings of work.
Among those 65 pitches Eovaldi threw on Sunday, approximately 30 were four-seam fastballs, and approximately 10 of those fastballs registered on the radar gun at 100 mph or more, per Baseball Savant.
“I felt really good,” Eovaldi told reporters following his outing. “I’ve been doing a lot of work on my mechanics and my mechanics feel like they’re falling into place really well. I don’t feel like I’m fighting myself as much anymore. I threw some decent splitters today. My curveball felt really good. I threw some really good sliders today as well. I felt like I was locating the ball really well and attacking the zone and that’s what I came out there to do today. To work fast, get first-pitch strikes, and keep the pressure on them.”
Between the Sox and Twins, nine pitchers in total took the mound at Hammond Stadium on Sunday. Among those nine, Eovaldi was responsible for the 30 fastest pitches.
On the surface, that seems like a reassuring point, but it also brings into question if Eovaldi would be better off to save some of those high-octane bullets for later in the regular season as opposed to turning to them now in Grapefruit League play.
“It’s hard for us to slow him down,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said of his flame-throwing starter. “That’s who he is. When he gets to the ballpark, everything is at full speed. We understand that, and we have to live with it. He’s in a great spot physically. He’s made some adjustments in the offseason. You see it, it’s full blast from the get-go. But, it’s something that that’s who he is, and we’re not going to change him.”
As for what went wrong in the fourth inning Sunday, Eovaldi attributed those struggles to just how dangerous the Twins lineup can be, but he also acknowledged that his performance as a whole was a step in the right direction heading into the new season.
“Other than that fourth inning, today felt really good going out there,” the Houston native said. “I think I had one 3-2 count, and that was to Sano in the first or second inning. Other than that, pitches felt really good. It’s just kind of now mixing them. I want the splitter to be a little bit better than it is now. But, everything else feels really good after today.”
Eovaldi has now recorded five strikeouts through his first two starts and 5 1/3 innings pitched of the spring. His next Grapefruit League outing could come against the Braves in North Port on Saturday.
“The more he pounds the strike zone with his stuff, he’s going to be successful,” said Cora. “And we like that.”
(Picture of Nathan Eovaldi: Michael Reaves/Getty Images)