By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — After a couple of clunkers to start the season, Eduardo Rodriguez could be settling in at the back of the Red Sox’ rotation. And if he can consistently pitch like he did against the Cubs at Fenway Park on Sunday night, he could be a boon for the pitching staff moving forward.
Rodriguez allowed just one earned run and scattered five hits with two walks in six strong innings against the defending World Series champions. He struck out nine and lowered his season ERA to 2.70, with the only blemish being a solo home run by Kris Bryant in the fifth inning. The 24-year-old was mostly in total command under the bright lights of ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, looking like a kid capable of becoming one of the AL’s premier pitchers.
Rodriguez told reporters after the game that the playoff-like atmosphere between two historic franchises helped him turn things up a notch.
“[October baseball] must feel like this, because there’s a lot of history between those teams and to face [the Cubs] got me really excited to have the opportunity,” said Rodriguez.
Watch all nine of Rodriguez’s strikeouts against the Cubs below:
Rodriguez felt particularly good about his changeup, which consistently hovered around the mid-80s to complement a fastball that touched the mid-90s. His changeup drew nine swings and misses from Cubs hitters, according to MLB.com’s Ian Browne.
“E-Rod” has shaved a mile off his average changeup velocity from 87.3 to 86.3 while maintaining his 93-mph average fastball this season, according to Fangraphs. That slight dip can make a bigger difference for pitchers than it may appear on paper.
Catcher Christian Vazquez agreed that Rodriguez’s changeup was big for him on Sunday.
“His changeup was the best changeup I’ve seen from him,” said Vazquez, who added that Rodriguez pitched “the best game that I’ve ever seen from him.”
After allowing six earned runs on nine hits and seven walks in his first 10.1 innings of the season, Rodriguez has allowed just one run in his last 13 innings of work, including 18 punchouts. Perhaps most encouraging about Rodriguez’s recent upswing is that opposing hitters’ contact rate on the season is at 63.7 percent, way down from 78.4 percent in 2016. The opposing contact rate on pitches inside the strike zone is at 74.3 percent, down from 85.9 percent last season.
[graphiq id=”6oyyuXRFafP” title=”Eduardo Rodríguez 2017 Complete Pitching Splits” width=”600″ height=”796″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/6oyyuXRFafP” ]
One of the lingering concerns with Rodriguez moving forward is still his pitch counts. He’s thrown 108 pitches in just six innings in his past two starts. That has translated to a walk rate that remains at a career-high 14.7 percent on the season.
But if Rodriguez can continue to cut down on the walks like he did on Sunday night, he will have a much better chance of pitching deeper into games – and being a consistent frontline starter for a Red Sox rotation that may need him in 2017 if David Price can’t pitch to his full potential.
The key word for Rodriguez, of course, is “consistent.” But Sunday night was an encouraging showing from the young lefty.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.