The Red Sox wouldn’t be in a playoff without Nathan Evaldi
If Nathan Evaldi is healthy when he finishes his last regular season against the Orioles on Wednesday, it will be the second time in his 10-year career that a full roster of starts has been unscathed.
During a season in which the Red Sox had a slim margin of error, Eovaldi stepped in and carried a starting course that wasn’t expected to be a huge hit.
His 31st start to the year was poor last Friday, when he said he couldn’t catch the ball well enough to throw his court out of speed and was lit for seven games in a crucial game against the Yankees.
But he’ll still score a 10-9 and 3.88 ERA record as he hits a league high of 32 at the start of the year against the Orioles on Wednesday.
Manager Alex Cora was asked why this year was the year Evaldi managed to stay healthy.
“Although he still lives fast with everything he does at the club, it slows him down a little bit on the hill,” Cora said. “He was able to use the crushing ball, his finger separated. He still has 100mph in the pocket whenever he needs to.”
The point about Eovaldi slowing down to stay fitter and healthier, is a good one. It was probably the first time this was mentioned.
Eovaldi’s speedball rate of 96.8 mph is the lowest since 2014. He also throws it less frequently, as well as making less use of a slashed fast ball while throwing more non-quick pitches than ever before.
“It’s a full pitcher,” Cora said. “He prepares better than anyone I’ve seen in a while. It doesn’t really matter if it’s Blauyecki or Vazquez, he’s in charge. He looks for information and collects it all and is happy to manage it. He’s willing to do a lot of things for the team. We’ve seen that at 18.” We’ve seen this guy post every five days this year so it’s been great for him.”
Eovaldi would definitely get some Cy Young votes as his 5.3 WAR tied him up with Garret Cole at the top of the MLS, largely due to his high innings/hit totals as well as his 2.84 FIP, an ERA mod for neutral defense.
Both the Sox and the Yankees have been terrible on the defensive side this year, which has made their stock performance even more impressive.
After former Sox boss Dave Dombrowski signed Eovaldi to a $68 million extension after the 2018 World Championships, Eovaldi was injured for most of 2019 and then returned as a savior, a failed experience that Cora still laments.
But Eovaldi was brilliant in the short season in 20 and he was brilliant in 21. With a decent half year in 2022, it would be fair to say that this contract was rare and has worked well for both sides.
“In 2019, it wasn’t fair to him,” Cora said. “It was tough because we needed the painkillers. We needed the guys to come up late in the games and we put him in that place because he was willing to do it. It didn’t work out. Kind of like the way you play late in the games is a lot different from the way You play early in the game. You want to attack early in the game.”
How the Sox decides to use Eovaldi after his final start on Wednesday will be intriguing. If Sox is still desperate to earn a watershed point over the weekend, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Cora decides to try it again.
But if the Sox is comfortably in a playoff position, he can rest Eovaldi, and possibly Chris Sale, who is due to start on Sunday, to use them for a winner-takes-all match next Tuesday.
The fact that Eovaldi is still healthy and progressing well this season remains one of the pleasant surprises of the Red Sox season.
The Sox celebrated 10 years of their time serving the Big League by donning Eovaldi jerseys on board a flight to Baltimore on Sunday night.
“That’s what it means for this group,” Cora said.