Now six games out of first place in the American League East after a 5-4 victory on Sunday, the Boston Red Sox still have an unsettled starting rotation with Joe Kelly trying to find his way at Triple-A Pawtucket, inconsistent right-hander Justin Masterson sent to the bullpen after another erratic outing on Saturday and projected ace Rick Porcello struggling with a 4-6 record and a 6.09 ERA. At least there is one reliable arm to accompany Clay Buchholz and his 3.27 ERA. That starter is 22-year-old rookie left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez.
The Red Sox improved to 39-45 on Sunday with a lift from Rodriguez, who did experience some command issues while throwing 101 pitches over five innings but limited the Astros to one run and six hits while striking out a career-high eight batters and walking two.
Rodriguez, who logged a no-decision, is 4-2 with a 3.69 ERA in his first eight major league starts. On Sunday, he became first Red Sox player in the live ball era (since 1920) to surrender no more than one run in six of his initial eight big league starts. The Venezuela native is also the first left-handed pitcher in the live ball era to register seven or more strikeouts and permit one run or less four times over his first eight starts.
Aside from two forgettable outings that saw him allow nine runs and six runs respectively, Rodriguez looked impressive. He allowed one run and eight hits in his first three starts, which covered 19.2 innings. Rodriguez was reached for nine runs and eight hits in 4.2 innings on June 14 against Toronto and six runs and seven hits in 3.2 innings on June 25 versus Baltimore, but otherwise he has given Red Sox manager John Farrell a much-needed lift in the rotation.
The Red Sox plan to keep Porcello in the rotation, giving him an opportunity to enter the All-Star break on a positive note with a start against Miami at Fenway Park on Wednesday. Buchholz has emerged as one of the top starters in the American League after a rocky beginning to the season. Left-hander Wade Miley is an enigma, as his last three outings illustrate. He tossed six shutout innings against Kansas City while earning on a win on June 21. Then he held Tampa Bay to two runs (both earned) and five hits with eight strikeouts and two walks in 6.1 innings. He regressed last Thursday by walking seven and allowing four runs and seven hits in five frames versus Toronto, though he did get credited with a win. Overall, Miley is 8-7 with a 4.53 ERA.
Considering the struggles of Porcello, the move of Masterson to the bullpen, the ups and downs of Miley and the demotion of Kelly to Pawtucket, Rodriguez is a key reason why the Red Sox have not plummeted out of the AL East race, even with the mediocrity of the other teams in the division.
After taking two out of three from the American League West-leading Astros over the weekend, the Red Sox could gain momentum heading into the All-Star break by at least splitting the two games against Miami and claiming two out of three from the New York Yankees. All give games are at Fenway Park. If the club does reach the All-Star break on a high note, Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington will be more likely to trade for a premium starter like Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels, or a younger starter under team control beyond next year.