In the midst of the worst season of his career, Eduardo Rodriguez shaved his beard.
With a fresh face and a blank slate to open the second half of the season, the Red Sox’ lefty dazzled at Yankee Stadium on Friday night, throwing 5 2/3 scoreless innings while allowing just two hits, two walks and striking out eight in the Sox’ 4-0 win over the Yankees.
“I just shaved because my daughter, she’s been on top of me all the time for the last two weeks,” Rodriguez said. “Every time I hug her she just goes, ‘Daddy, I don’t want that, shave it please.’ And I was home during the All-Star break and she kept doing it and I went to my restroom and saw my razor and said, ‘OK, I’ll do it for her.’
“I’ve had a beard for the last five or six years so it feels good, I feel like I lost five years. Even my teammates say, ‘Bro, you look younger.’ So I feel happy with that.”
With a clean face, Rodriguez helped make the Red Sox 7-0 against the Yankees this year.
Including a win over their rivals to end the 2020 season, the Sox have now won eight straight against them, their longest winning streak vs. the Yankees since starting the 2009 season 8-0 against them.
The buzz at Yankee Stadium might not be what it normally is, with six Yankees players on the COVID-19 injured list and the Yanks now 46-44, nine games behind the first-place Red Sox, who improved to 56-36.
With two more against them this weekend and another four next week, the Sox have a chance to bury the Yankees so far in the standings they could effectively end their season and force general manager Brian Cashman to consider selling at the July 31 trade deadline.
For Rodriguez, it was another sign that he might be turning a corner on his disappointing season.
While he’s not blowing away hitters like he used to, the 28-year-old looks much more like a pitcher and less of a thrower. He was nibbling to start the game but found a way to get the Yankees to chase. Most of the contact was weak, and after allowing a leadoff single to DJ LeMahieu in the first inning, he allowed just one hit over the remainder of his outing.
Over his last four outings, Rodriguez has faced the Yankees twice and posted the following numbers: 22 2/3 innings, 2.38 ERA, 17 hits allowed, four walks allowed and 27 strikeouts.
“I would say probably five or six starts ago I was with (pitching coach Dave Bush) in the bullpen and joking around,” Rodriguez said. “I said, ‘let me try to throw this changeup slower,’ and I threw it and we had Rhapsodo there, Trackman, and the ball was 82, 83 mph and 82, 83 mph in the bullpen is going to be like 85, 86 mph in a game. We had really good movement on it and I told him, ‘I’m going to throw it in a game my next start.’ I started throwing it and it worked really well.”
Rodriguez threw his changeup at an average speed of 85 mph on Friday, giving him an 8 mph difference between from his fastball.
“Now I tell (catcher Christian Vazquez) every time he’s behind the plate, I tell him, ‘bro, every time you see a changeup up there 88, 89 mph, just slap me in the face or tell me something because I feel like that’s not working,” he said.
Said manager Alex Cora, “the action is a lot better.”
Other takeaways from this one:
1. Christian Arroyo doesn’t want to go to the bench. With Jarren Duran called up to be the new center fielder on most nights, Kiké Hernandez is soon moving to second base on a more regular basis. But with lefty Jordan Montgomery on the mound, Cora left Duran on the bench and started Hernandez in center and Arroyo at second.
Arroyo rewarded his manager’s confidence with a two-run homer to put his team up 3-0 in the second inning. It was a changeup on the outer half and Arroyo pummeled it over the right-center-field wall for his sixth homer of the year. And as well as he’s played against lefties, it should create some interesting competition at second base.
“Jarren is a heck of a player,” Arroyo said. “He brings a dynamic to our team. I’m never going to complain about guys who are going to come up here and contribute to our success. I’m here to win baseball games.”
2. Duran will have to wait another day to make his MLB debut and is expected to start on Saturday. But the Sox got to see another one of their prospects, Tanner Houck, make an impact.
Pitching in the big leagues for the first time since April 18, Houck returned to throw three dominant innings, allowing just one hit and one walk while striking out three. Houck had been optioned three times this year as the Sox couldn’t find room for him. Then he suffered a flexor strain and missed some time in the minors. He’s expected to slide into the rotation for a spot start Wednesday against the Blue Jays.
3. With Arroyo learning how to play first base, it could put pressure on Bobby Dalbec, who made a key error on a routine play in the fifth inning. Dalbec simply botched a catch on a throw from Rafael Devers at third base, letting the ball bounce off his wrist as it rolled by him to put runners on the corners and the tying run at the plate. It was Dalbec’s seventh error of the season, though Rodriguez made it a moot point after he struck out Tim Locastro to end the inning.