PAWTUCKET — At some point in the near future, Nathan Eovaldi will take the baseball into his hands and pitch for the Boston Red Sox.
It could be even as soon as this weekend as Boston begins a series in Baltimore. But his role will likely be as a relief pitcher, not as his career-path role as a starter.
The 29-year-old Eovaldi made a cameo, one-inning appearance with the Pawtucket Red Sox Thursday before packing his bags and returning to Fenway Park.
Eovaldi has made 160 MLB appearances, but 152 of those have been as a starting pitcher. With Boston having season-long issues with the bullpen — albeit both Ryan Brasier and Hector Velasquez being optioned to the PawSox — Eovaldi is being groomed as a stop-gap solution.
“His cutter is as good as a lot of guys’ fastballs,” Billy McMillon, the PawSox manager said of Eovaldi. “He knows how to command the zone.
“With that two-seamer he’s going to give some teams fits. He looked as good as I’ve ever seen him.”
Presenting Eovaldi with a new four-year, $68-million contract in the off-season, the Red Sox hope that their investment earns some dividends.
“His fastball looked really sharp, his two-seamer was 94-95 (mph), and he got a couple of strikeouts on breaking balls,” McMillon said in praise. Eovaldi told Boston media earlier in the week that he would do whatever Boston needed. “I know where we’re at in the season. It’s going to be another month, if I’m going to come back as a starter. I want to come back and contribute now.”
Eovaldi hasn’t pitched since April 17 against the Yankees, being on the injured list since then with right elbow issues — then undergoing arthroscopic surgery to remove loose bodies, then developing right biceps tendinitis.
In his lone inning of work Thursday, the second frame against the Lousiville Bats, Eovaldi threw 11 of his 19 pitches for strikes, routinely hitting 94-98 mph on the radar gun with his two- and four-seam fastballs.
Eovaldi took three K’s too – striking out the Bats’ No. 5 (on five pitches), No. 7 (on five pitches) and No. 8 (on three pitches) batters, all right-handed hitters. Eovaldi did issue a one-out walk and balked a runner to third base with two outs.
Eovaldi was far from stellar in four starts for Boston earlier in the season, allowing 21 hits, 11 walks and 14 earned runs (a 6.00 ERA) over 21 innings of work.
“We were going to see how he wanted to proceed, to use some caution,” McMillon said of Eovaldi’s work with rain forecast. “He looked really good, I would think that he would be happy, that he would be ready.”
After being acquired from Tampa Bay last year (July 25 for Jalen Beeks), Eovaldi became a hero for the World Series champions, making two starts and six relief appearances during the playoffs, compiling a 2-1 record with a 1.61 ERA.
During the regular season with Boston, Eovaldi made 11 starts and had one relief role, accumulating a 3-3 record with a 3.33 ERA.
“If I can help out in the (bull)pen, I’m itching to get back,” Eovaldi said in the Red Sox clubhouse.
The PawSox suffered a 4-2 setback to Louisville, being limited to three hits and striking out 14 times. Ted Stankiewicz, who followed Eovaldi to the mound, surrendered a lead-off solo HR in the fourth inning to Brian O’Brady, and later in the frame, a two-run HR to Narcisco Crook. Then he was touched for a lead-off solo HR by Chadwick Tromp in the seventh inning.
Before a crowd of 8,497, the PawSox got on the scoreboard in the third inning as Cole Sturgeon drew a walk and scored on an Oscar Hernandez double. In the sixth inning, the PawSox added a second run on singles by Tzu-Wei Lin and Jantzen Witte.