Eduardo Rodriguez will make his season debut for the Red Sox in their series-opening contest against the Orioles in Baltimore on Thursday, manager Alex Cora announced Tuesday.
Rodriguez, who experienced “dead arm” during the late stages of spring training, began the 2021 campaign on the 10-day injured list due to left elbow inflammation.
The left-hander most recently threw a bullpen session on Monday, and the results of that bullpen session surely played a role in the decision to activate him in the coming days.
“Eduardo feels good,” Cora said via Zoom. “He’s going to join us in Baltimore. He’s going to start the first game in Baltimore. We feel good about him. He threw a good bullpen yesterday, so that’s where we’re at. He’s slated to pitch on Thursday.
Rodriguez, who turns 28 on Wednesday, was initially slated to be Boston’s Opening Day starter, but he was scratched — and later shelved — from that start because of the aforementioned dead arm.
The Sox placed the Venezuelan hurler on the injured list on April 1, but backdated the beginning of the stint to March 29, which now allows Rodriguez to be activated from the IL this coming Thursday.
Having last pitched in a competitive game on March 22, one might expect the Red Sox to ease Rodriguez into things in regards to a pitch or innings limit in his first start of the season later this week, but Cora indicated that will not be the case.
“We’ll take care of him,” the Sox skipper said. “But, there’s not like a hard number that we have. We do believe that he’s ready to go — go deep into the game. So that’s the most important thing. If it was something that it was going to be short, like he wasn’t ready to go five or six [innings], we would probably think about the decision. But we do believe that he can go deep into the game.”
While Rodriguez was sidelined to begin the season, rookie right-hander Tanner Houck started in the lefty’s place against the Orioles on Saturday.
Over five innings of work in that contest, Houck yielded three runs — two of which were earned — on six hits and one walk to go along with eight strikeouts.
It was yet another solid performance for the 24-year-old, who now owns an ERA of 1.23 through his first four big-league starts. But it would appear that he will be headed back down to the alternate training site in Worcester in spite of that.
“You can be successful here but it doesn’t mean you’ve checked all the boxes from our end, and you can keep getting better” Cora said of Houck. “We haven’t made a decision yet, so we’ll wait.”
Between now and and the time Rodriguez is presumably activated from the injured list before Thursday’s game against Baltimore, Houck will move to the bullpen and will be available to pitch in relief in Tuesday night’s contest against the Rays at Fenway Park.
As MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith put it, though, “don’t expect the Red Sox to use Houck as a reliever for any extended period of time. The Red Sox want him to remain a starter and keep working on the development of his splitter.”
Red Sox pitching coach Dave Bush said as much when discussing Houck’s development as a starter back in February.
“The split was new for him last year so he was relatively inexperienced with it,” Bush told reporters at the time. “He didn’t use it a whole lot in the big leagues. He’s going to have to. If he’s going to be a consistent big-league starter over time, he’s going to need a quality third pitch. He knows that and that’s probably been on the top of the list.
“Continuing to work on that to the point where he feels comfortable and confident attacking the zone with it and throwing it whenever he needs to,” continued Bush. “Also, generally, pitch command. Something he has worked on all through the minors is just throwing more strikes, being more consistent in the zone and being able to work ahead in the count so he can use his slider and his other off-speed pitches to get guys out.”
In Saturday’s start against the Orioles, 54 of the 85 pitches Houck threw went for strikes. Of those 85 pitches, 32 were sliders, 32 were four-seam fastballs, 18 were sinkers, and three were splitters.
(Picture of Eduardo Rodriguez: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)