The 2020 regular season is fast approaching, as teams begin to construct their lineups, starting rotations, and final 26-man rosters. Spring training gives players across the league an opportunity to prove themselves to their respective teams. It also gives teams a chance to see those players perform in real, nine-inning games and how they perform in those real-game situations, as opposed to just simulations.
Unfortunately, spring training can also bring bad news, as it pertains to injuries and players not being ready for the start of the season. For the Boston Red Sox, spring training is a welcome relief from the offseason turmoil that the franchise and its players had to endure. The team went down to Fort Myers, Florida with a chance to finally focus on baseball and prepare themselves for the oncoming 2020 season.
Rather quickly, Boston’s opening day roster suffered a loss with the news that Chris Sale will be placed on the injured list and miss the start of the 2020 regular season. This decision was based on Sale still recovering from a long bout with pneumonia, thus preventing him from participating in the team’s spring pitching program and causing him to fall behind on his preparation for the start of the season.
After trading Mookie Betts and David Price to the Los Angeles Dodgers this offseason, the last thing that the Red Sox or their fans want to hear is that another star player will not be with the team on opening day. However, given the fact that Sale missed the end of last season with elbow inflammation and he possesses a slender frame to begin with, the team is being extra cautious to make sure that he can fully regain his strength before sending him to the mound.
With Sale going to the injured list, and David Price and Rick Porcello wearing new uniforms this season, the opening day starting honors now fall to Eduardo Rodriguez, the 26-year-old lefty who won 19 games for the Red Sox in 2019.
Rodriguez had a breakout 2019 season, finishing with a 19-6 record and a 3.81 ERA in a career-high 34 starts. He also set career highs in strikeouts (213) and innings pitched (203.1), which saw him finish in the top 10 in American League Cy Young Award voting. It’s not hyperbole to say that trading veteran reliever Andrew Miller for Rodriguez back in 2014 was one of Ben Cherington’s best moves in his tenure as Boston’s general manager. In his five seasons with Boston, Rodriguez is 51-31 and has started no less than 20 games per season.
With Sale missing at least the first few weeks of the season, as well as the back end of Boston’s rotation being a huge question mark, Rodriguez’s progression is more important now than ever before. Him taking a major step forward not only benefits the team, but it also benefits Rodriguez as far as his contract situation is concerned.
Rodriguez is still under team control through the 2021 Major League Baseball season. He’s slated to earn $8.3 million for the 2020 season after losing his arbitration hearing against the team, as he was reportedly seeking $8.975 million. Rodriguez has a chance to establish himself as one of the best left-handed pitchers in the game under 30. Whether it’s the Red Sox or another team who wants to lock him up to a long-term deal, Rodriguez could pitch his way into a lot of money in the coming years should he continue to progress the way that he has.
Boston’s offense will still score a lot of runs this season despite losing Betts. Their lineup is still dangerous due to the presence of Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and J.D. Martinez, along with the ever-progressing Andrew Benintendi and Michael Chavis; Rodriguez should have little-to-no problem receiving run support.
The big issue will be how deep he can pitch into ballgames. In the past, Rodriguez has struggled to maintain consistency in his approach towards the latter portions of games, and he can often be exposed when facing an opposing lineup the second or third time through.
That said, Rodriguez continues to develop his arsenal of pitches and sharpen his skills every year. For example, it was reported last winter that he had been working on a new slider to add to his repertoire to go along with his fastball and extremely effective changeup.
Eduardo Rodriguez, still just 26, has a lot of untapped potential still waiting to be unleashed, and the 2020 season is the perfect chance for him to do just that and step into the spotlight for the Boston Red Sox.