BOSTON — Nathan Eovaldi would love to be a key link on a team that is on a World Series-or-bust mission.
Under Dave Dombrowski’s leadership, the Red Sox have not been complacent as they’ve piled up the best record in baseball. As the team rolled its way to a 71-32 record, the President of Baseball Operations has already added key pieces such as Steve Pearce via trade and called up the likes of relievers Ryan Brasier and Bobby Poyner.
But as he watched Eduardo Rodriguez hit the disabled list with a significant right ankle sprain, Drew Pomeranz get knocked around by the Orioles in his return Tuesday night and Steven Wright stay on the DL with left knee inflammation, Dombrowski had to do something to shore up the back end of the rotation. That something turned out to be trading prospect Jalen Beeks to Tampa Bay for right-handed starter Nathan Eovaldi.
“Oh yeah, the expectations are definitely high,” Eovaldi told me. “I try not to put any extra pressure on myself. I try to treat each game as if it will be my last and go out there and do the best I can do every time, regardless of what team I’m with or where we’re placed, first or last. I want to give my team the best opportunity to win.”
Eovaldi, who makes his Red Sox debut Sunday in a start against Minnesota, comes to Boston not just looking to win a ring but prove he can still get major league hitters out on a regular basis as a starting pitcher. Tampa Bay signed him to a one-year, $2 million deal before the ’17 season and extended that option at the same rate for ’18. Does Eovaldi feel he has a point to prove in the final nine weeks of the regular season and likely postseason?
“Yeah, absolutely,” he said. “It’s not really about how you start, it’s about how you finish. You want to finish on the highest note possible. To come here with the Red Sox, that’s going to the World Series.
“I’m very excited about joining the Red Sox. I’m very grateful for the opportunity that they’re giving me and that they gave up a big prospect in return for me in Beeks. I’m super-excited to be here. Keep pitching the way I’ve been pitching, go deep into the games and fill up the strike zone and try not to let any runs score.”
The 28-year-old righty has had two Tommy John surgeries but is still capable of reaching 96 MPH on the radar gun with his four-seam fastball. This season with the Rays he was 3-4 with a 4.26 ERA but a very impressive 0.982 WHIP in 10 starts. All of this after missing the entire 2017 season recovering from his second Tommy John procedure following two seasons with the Yankees in which he went 23-11 in 2015-16.
“I feel healthy. I feel 100 percent ready to go,” Eovaldi said before Thursday’s series opener with Minnesota. “I try not to think about past surgeries. Just the whole rehab process, you’re out for so long and did all that work to get healthy and stay healthy. I want to trust the work that I’ve put in that I’ll stay healthy and I’ll not have any more injuries and just go out there and hopefully take the ball every four days and pitch every fifth day and help the team win.”
Maybe it’s the perseverance Eovaldi has shown that Dombrowski and the Red Sox value more than anything else. This is a pitcher who had his first Tommy John procedure on his right arm at the age of 17 when he was still in high school. After posting a 14-3 mark with the Yankees in 2015, it all went south in Aug. 2016 when he was told that not only would he need another UCL repair, he would also have to have a flexor tendon repaired.
The key to helping the Red Sox will be adding depth in the back-end of the rotation, behind Chris Sale, David Price and Rick Porcello. But a further look into the numbers shows Eovaldi might be able to serve a specific purpose in attacking right-handed heavy lineups such as the Yankees. He has a limited opponents to a .207/.217/.414 slash line.
“Yeah, I’ve had some success against righties,” Eovaldi said. “I’ve been using the cutter more. That was something when I came back from my recent injury and have had a lot of success with it and been able to locate up in the zone as well. Hopefully, I stay on that course and continue to mix in my pitches and get the job done. I definitely know these guys in our division pretty well. I’ve done pretty well against our opponents.
“It’s definitely been a lot for the past day, packing up the house, my wife and I, mainly she did,” the pitcher added. “(I) thank her. Just the travel, get in late, delay from the weather in Tampa and getting up here. Throwing my pen on Sunday, getting scratched (Wednesday) from game (vs. Yankees).”
Being busy is not something Eovaldi will be complaining about come October.