Nathan Eovaldi elbow injury illustrates risk associated with him, but it was a risk worth taking


OK, first of all, that came out of nowhere. Nathan Eovaldi delivered his best start of the season on Tuesday in New York, limiting the Yankees to three hits and one unearned run in six innings. He hit 99.9 mph and left with a 3-1 lead before Brett Gardner's grand slam left us bemoaning a lost April.

Eovaldi transitioned from that performance to "he can't straighten his elbow" in the span of 48 hours, which illustrates the risk each of Eovaldi's employers has assumed since he entered the league.

He is not just injury-prone, he's surgery prone. He underwent a similar elbow procedure last March that cost him the first two months of the season. He's also a veteran of two Tommy John surgeries, though one of them was during his junior year in high school. This time around, per USA Today, doctors are expected to shave the bone in his right elbow to keep any more loose bodies from appearing.

Those who wondered what the Red Sox were thinking when they signed Eovaldi to a four-year, $68 million contract this winter should feel free to gloat. I considered him a risk worth taking, even knowing he could encounter moments like this, because the upside is so high.

He showed what kind of difference-maker he could be last October, when he delivered the signature moment of the postseason, albeit in a losing effort, tossing six innings of stellar relief in Game 3 of the World Series before being walked off in the 18th inning.

He timed his breakthrough perfectly, just weeks before hitting free agency, and if the Red Sox wanted to keep him, they were going to have to pay him. The $17 million annually they committed might sound high for his track record -- he's sub-.500 lifetime with a 4.21 ERA -- but not his potential. Still only 29, Eovaldi is at an age when pitchers can figure things out. The risk was that he'd go bust, and Dave Dombrowski must be swallowing hard this evening, but the reward was even greater.

Maybe it still will be, but it's going to have to wait.

Finally: who replaces him? Manager Alex Cora said right-hander Hector Velazquez will start the next couple of turns through the rotation, but who goes after that is unclear.

The best prospect at Triple-A is right-hander Mike Shawaryn, a 2016 fifth-rounder out of Maryland who's 1-2 with a 3.63 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 22.1 innings.

The most intriguing name is left-hander Darwinzon Hernandez, who's 1-1 with a 1.80 ERA but has only made two starts at Double A. The team's best pitching prospect, Hernandez hasn't yet demonstrated a command of the strike zone (7 BBs in 10 IP), so it's unlikely he's ready, but to use this word again, he's got the most potential.

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