PORTLAND, Maine — Eduardo Rodriguez was the latest Boston Red Sox player to come to Hadlock Field on his way back from injury Monday night when he took the mound for the Portland Sea Dogs.
Rodriguez went four innings and got the win against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. The final score was 4-3.
It was a major step toward getting the lefty starter back to the big leagues, where Boston Manager Alex Cora has already said he expects Rodriguez to return to the starting rotation.
It’s just the latest contribution the Sea Dogs have made to the Red Sox’ possibly record-breaking season — Boston’s on pace for its best regular season record ever — and might not be the last one.
As Boston’s Double-A minor league affiliate, Portland is a frequent stopover for Red Sox players rehabilitating from injuries, and there are a number of important contributors suffering from injuries.
Ace starter Chris Sale is on the disabled list, for instance, as are fellow pitcher Steven Wright, catcher Christian Vazquez and third baseman Rafael Devers.
Cora said Wright is on pace for a rehab start in the minor leagues after a workout with teammates this week, although it’s undetermined which minor league team he’ll pitch for — a decision based on schedules and the player’s individual needs.
The Red Sox are currently on pace to beat their club record of 104 wins, set in 1946. The closest they’ve come since then was in 1978. That was the year of their epic collapse, one-game tiebreaker playoff loss to the Yankees and Bucky “Bleepin’” Dent.
But even more than giving Rodriguez — and any other Sox who need it — a safe place to get back to form, Sea Dogs Manager Darren Fenster thinks Portland’s biggest contribution is its former players.
“The majority of those guys came through Portland,” said Fenster. “That’s our very big impact.”
Fenster was referring to former Sea Dogs, and current Boston stars, like Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr.
“That’s the role Portland has played for Boston this year,” he said.
Rodriguez, a former Sea Dog himself, said his ankle was fine after his stint on the mound, and all his pitches felt great. He struck out eight, walked two and allowed one hit. He hopes to rejoin the Red Sox sooner, rather than later.
“We’ll see. I pitched four innings today,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve got to talk to them and see if I’ve got to throw another one. I’m ready for it. I’m just waiting for them.”
Rodriguez hasn’t pitched for Boston since he sprained his ankle covering first base on July 14. He’s the biggest Sox name to rehab in Portland this summer since pitcher Drew Pomeranz started — and won — on opening day.
Monday night’s outing was significantly better than Rodriguez’s previous rehab start in Portland, last season. During that June 29, 2017 game, he took the loss and gave up nine hits and six runs over three innings.
That performance led to a minor controversy in Boston when Baseball Hall-of-Famer and Red Sox commentator Dennis Eckersley said “yuck,” when seeing the numbers. Later, on the team plane, starting pitcher David Price confronted Eckersley.
Price reportedly shouted, “Here he is — the greatest pitcher who ever lived! This game is easy for him!”
Price also said to Eckersley, “Get the [expletive] out of here.”
This year, Rodriguez’s role might be larger than ever down the stretch, with ace Sale now also on the disabled list for the second time in recent weeks and the pitching rotation in need of a boost.
“I just want to get up there and help the team keep winning,” he said.