BOSTON — Somewhat fittingly, Eduardo Rodriguez’s coming-of-age evening ended with one last childish action.
Rodriguez was brilliant for five innings of Game 3 in the World Series, dicing through the Dodgers with surprising ease, but finally ran into trouble in the sixth. With two aboard and two out, the young lefty served up a three-run homer to Yasiel Puig — and then spiked his glove so hard Rob Gronkowski would have blushed.
His night wound up as something of an afterthought — it was the extra-inning loss that saw Nate Eovaldi turn folk hero — but the outing as a whole was a leap forward for Rodriguez.
“I go back to October, that outing in L.A., we learned a lot from him,” Alex Cora said. “Nobody in the world thought he was going to be able to pitch the way he pitched there... But we knew that was a great matchup for us and he proved it. Too bad it finished the way it did, slamming the glove to the ground before the ball landed, but that was a good one for him as far as confidence.”
That confidence has resonated.
Always blessed with tantalizing potential, Rodriguez is realizing it this season. At 13-5, his 4.19 ERA is the best on the Red Sox staff, and he’s been remarkably consistent.
Cora believes it’s because he’s embraced who he is as a pitcher; Rodriguez has done it his way.
“I knew he was very talented,” Cora said. “We knew the stuff. I think it’s more about him trusting the stuff, trusting that these are your best pitches, just throw them. He gets creative here and there, but I think overall, he’s understanding who he is.
“Coming into the season, I wanted him to detach himself from the veterans as far as on the mound and how to pitch. I don’t want you to be David (Price) or Chris (Sale) or Rick (Porcello). I want you to be Eduardo Rodriguez. If you do that, you’ll be fine.”
Rodriguez has out-pitched all three of those veterans this season. The most impressive part of his growth has been the durability he’s developed.
Until this year, Rodriguez’s m.o. was easily identifiable.
Though he had nasty stuff, the lefty was prone to getting a bit too cute with his pitches, and he’d wind up going 5 2/3 innings. The pitch count would pile up too quickly and he’d tax the bullpen.
In 2019, Rodriguez leads the Red Sox with 135 1/3 innings. That’s more than Sale, Porcello, and well more than Price.
Rodriguez has gone at least six in more than half his starts, and is really the only rotation member that has done his job at a high level with any semblance of consistency.
“We joke with him, actually. You know the saying five and dive?” Cora asked. “There’s no more of that. He’s actually looking to go more. The other day, he wanted to face one more hitter. I decided no, and I explained why, but I like the fact that he’s not shying away from it. He wants to be that guy. “
On a staff where he wasn’t supposed to be the guy, Rodriguez has been.
Chris Mason is a Red Sox beat writer for the Eagle-Tribune and CNHI Sports Boston. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter at @ByChrisMason