Tomase: E-Rod leaving no doubt he's new Red Sox ace


The radar gun may have only said 92 or 93 mph, but the results said something much more important -- Eduardo Rodriguez is right on track.

With Chris Sale sidelined and Nathan Eovaldi maddeningly inconsistent, E-Rod is clearly the ace of the Red Sox staff. But coming off one of the most serious bouts of COVID that any athlete in any sport has faced, Rodriguez arrived in Fort Myers needing to prove he had beaten the myocarditis that left him unable to work out for months.

He continued making that case in a 1-win over the Twins on Thursday, tossing four innings of one-run ball, walking none and striking out six. Save for a solo homer by Alex Kirilloff in the second, Rodriguez was barely threatened. Perhaps most impressively, the pitcher once known for his infuriating propensity to nibble threw 33 of his 48 pitches for strikes.

"As you guys know, I've been very hard on him as far as attacking the zone since 2018," manager Alex Cora said. "He's buying into that concept and that's the difference between Eddie early on to the one we have now. This is a guy that can go deep into games. As far as workload, every five days, we trust this guy. He's a strong guy and easy delivery so it was good to see him perform this way but it wasn't surprising."

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Rodriguez remains on track to start the opener in three weeks vs. the Orioles, even if nothing has been officially announced. Two years removed from a breakout 19-win season and sixth-place finish in the Cy Young race, Rodriguez sees no reason why he can't pick up where he left off.

"I had a regular offseason," Rodriguez said with some measure of relief. "Because I had a regular offseason, I think that's why my pitches are getting back where I was. Throughout my bullpens and every time I've played catch, I've been working on it day by day. That's why I think they're back there getting in place."

If there was a minor concern, it was his velocity. In a camp that has seen Eovaldi touch 99 mph and even Tanner Houck hit 98, Rodriguez remains a tick below the 94-95 that combines with his changeup to make him so effective.

"I mean, right now I'm just working on location," Rodriguez said. "I know the velocity is going to get back by the time we get to the season. It's going to get back. I'm just working right now on throwing the pitch right where I want it, feeling good, getting my shoulder right."

Two starts into the Grapefruit League season, Rodriguez is 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA and eight strikeouts in 6.2 innings. He has yet to walk anyone.

Add it all up, and he has the look of an Opening Day starter, which is quite a change from last summer, when he could barely cross the living room without being winded.

"I mean, that's going to be a really big honor for me, because you see how many guys have been the Opening Day starter," he said. "To have the opportunity to be Opening Day starter for the Red Sox is something I can really appreciate. Even if they don't want me to be, I'll stay as a second starter, third starter, whatever position.

"Like I always tell you guys, whatever position they give me, they give me the ball, and I'll go out there every five days."

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