Nate Eovaldi did not want to go out like that. Not on the injured list.
He’s hit the IL twice this season. Once earlier this summer because of a barking back and hip. The secondbecause of shoulder inflammation.
Maybe it was because Eovaldi came back too early the first time in July when the Red Sox’ season still held high hopes for a playoff push. Perhaps it was because his mechanics were out of whack, leading to the ailing shoulder.
That’s all in the past now. The exact cause for his latest injury is still uncertain.
What was certain, though, was that Eovaldi, who is a free agent at the year’s end, wanted to get back on the hill before the end of the 2022 season. Though it comes in a season that fell short of the playoffs, Eovaldi knew this could be it for him in a Red Sox uniform.
So, the Red Sox activated their starter ahead of Thursday’s contest with the Orioles. Eovaldi gave the Sox 4⅔ innings, yielding five hits and two runs (one earned). It helped produce a 5-3 Sox win and a series victory. The Sox bullpen combined for 4⅓ innings. The only damage against it came in the seventh when Kyle Stowers launched a solo shot to right-center, tying the game at three.
But J.D. Martinez’s two-run shot to left during the home half of the eighth put the Red Sox ahead for good.
Martinez said the team is trying to have fun, knowing that they’re out of postseason contention. Every player is trying to end the season on a high.
For Eovaldi, however, who has one start left that he will make next week against the Rays at Fenway, there are some more layers to it. Yes, he wants to have fun. Equally, though, this is about closure, finishing his job in a Red Sox uniform.
“That’s why I was pushing to make it back for at least two more starts and be able to time it up and pitch at home,” Eovaldi said. “It means a lot to me to be able to come out here and pitch in front of our fans and of course be able to put on the Red Sox uniform and go out there and compete. That’s why it was a big focus of mine to make sure I stay with my mechanics and don’t rush on the mound.”
Velocity has been the key part of Eovaldi’s game that has eluded him this season, mainly when he came off the injured list. That did not change Thursday. Eovaldi averaged 93.7 miles per hour on his fastball, which is just more than two ticks down from his yearly average (95.9). But if you ask Eovaldi, with his full repertoire of pitches, he’s a better pitcher now than, say, in 2018 when he would light up a radar gun, but did not have the arsenal he has now.
“I just feel like every year, you gotta try to continuously get better,” Eovaldi said. “Whether that’s adding a new pitch or just working on the command of other pitches and not being able to just rely on two or three pitches. Like today, just being able to have that confidence in my slider and continuously working on it. I felt like I finally found the right release point for it and I didn’t get hurt on it.”
Manager Alex Cora thinks his starter has evolved.
“This is a different pitcher than when he got here in 2018,” Cora said. “He has so many weapons.”
Cora also noted that he thinks velocity with a normal offseason will see an uptick. Maybe not to what it once was, but, to some degree, it will return.
Will the return of the velocity happen in a Red Sox uniform next season? Maybe not.
If not, Eovaldi is still grateful for his latest tenure in Boston.
“I’ve loved every minute of being over here and putting on the uniform,” Eovaldi reiterated. “Hopefully there’s more to come.”
The future, though, isn’t at the top of Eovaldi’s to-do list. Not right now.
He has what could be his last start as a member of the Red Sox next week.
He has a job to finish.