Even though the environment suggested otherwise as they played at a spring training facility, Alex Cora knew his first-place Red Sox couldn’t take this week’s series against the second-place Blue Jays lightly.
“We’ve got to be ready for this,” Cora said. “These three games, they count.”
But then they fell way short in one of their flattest performances of the season.
Eduardo Rodriguez’s underwhelming month continued, and he didn’t get any help from his offense, either. The Red Sox gave up a season-high 18 hits — 11 by Rodriguez — as they were silenced by Hyun-Jin Ryu in an 8-0 loss to the Blue Jays at TD Ballpark in Dunedin, Fla. It was just the second time the Red Sox have been shut out this season as their AL East lead shrunk to a half-game over the Jays.
Rodriguez has been one of the best stories in baseball as he rebounds from a lost 2020 season, but lately, the lefty has fallen short of being the ace that Cora has labeled him. Tuesday, he submitted his worst outing of the season as he tied a career high by allowing 11 hits and gave up five earned runs, the most he has surrendered in a game this year.
The Blue Jays, one of the most aggressive offenses in baseball, swung early on Rodriguez and were successful. Four of their first nine batters swung at Rodriguez’s first pitch — and all of them were hits. Rodriguez did well to limit the damage early, but the Jays broke through on No. 9 hitter Danny Jansen’s RBI single in the second. And in the fourth, Jansen drew a two-out walk that opened the floodgates as three runs scored.
Rodriguez was hit for four doubles on the night as the Blue Jays had no trouble generating offense.
“It just felt like they kept putting good at-bats,” Cora said. “Everything with two outs. We weren’t able to stop the bleeding. There were a lot of ground balls. A lot of — I don’t want to say luck, but it seems like everything they put in play was a hit.”
Rodriguez’s outing continued a troubling trend. After a strong April, the lefty has fallen back to earth in May. In four starts, he’s totaled just 21 innings and allowed 33 hits, six walks and 14 earned runs. That’s a WHIP of 1.86 and ERA of 6.00, and his ERA this season is up to 4.70, the highest among Red Sox starters.
Rodriguez feels like his velocity is where it needs to be — the issue seems to be his command. Cora identified an issue with his cutter, which he said looked more like a hanging slider on Tuesday instead of being sharp and dotting the strike zone. But Rodriguez said he was having trouble locating all of his pitches.
“Missing my spots, that’s what I think has been changing the last couple of starts,” Rodriguez said. “It’s just something I need to work on. Finally I’ve got my velocity back, I need to just work on hitting my spots. That’s what’s happening right now. …
“Like today, I missed a lot of fastballs, changeups, cutters, the curveball that (Cavan) Biggio hit, the double. It’s just part of that. When you miss, everything changes. No matter what pitch you throw, if you miss, you miss. For me, just go to the bullpen, work these next four days and work on hitting my spots on all my pitches. That’s it. That’s all I need to do. It wasn’t just my cutter.”
Other takeaways from the Red Sox’ loss:
— After not starting Sunday, Alex Verdugo picked up on the momentum from Saturday’s win — when he ended a slump with a homer on his birthday — as he collected two hits, including a leadoff double in the fourth. But the Red Sox couldn’t muster much else against Ryu, the Jays’ ace, in a rare cold night for the league’s best offense.
Xander Bogaerts followed in the fourth by reaching on what was originally an error but later ruled a single to put runners on first and third with one out. But the Red Sox couldn’t cash in on their only real opportunity as Rafael Devers popped out and Christian Vazquez flew out. They were unable to put another runner in scoring position against Ryu, who threw seven shutout innings and allowed just four hits.
“You have to give him credit,” Cora said of Ryu. “He changes speed. He got some quick outs. He was on top of us all night either with the fastball or the breaking ball. He expanded with the changeup. He’s one of the best and not too many people talk about him.”
The Red Sox were shut out for the first time since their Opening Day loss to the Orioles.
— Hunter Renfroe had a rough night. A week after his underrated defensive abilities were on full display, the right fielder made an error that cost the Red Sox a run. In the fourth, Marcus Semien hit a two-out single to right that scored a run, but Renfroe’s aggressive throw to third sailed past Devers, allowing another run to score that made it 3-0.
Renfroe then led off the fifth with a deep hit to right, but he was thrown out at second by Hernandez. It appeared Renfroe slid in safely, but his hand came off the base while Bichette’s tag was applied, making him clearly out.