Eovaldi Has Been the Postseason MVP so Far for Red Sox
By Jason Mastrodonato
BOSTON -- Nathan Eovaldi has been the Boston Red Sox’s MVP this postseason, even if it’s been unusual to watch given the versatile nature of his performances.
The Red Sox flew to Los Angeles Thursday afternoon just two wins away from a World Series championship, which would be their MLB-best fourth in 15 years.
They probably wouldn’t be in this position without Eovaldi, who has submitted an iconic October performance akin to Kenley Jansen for the 2017 Dodgers, Andrew Miller for the 2016 Indians or Wade Davis for the 2015 Royals.
Except Eovaldi hasn’t only dominated out of the bullpen, from which he emerged to pitch yet another perfect eighth inning in Boston’s 4-2 Game 2 win Wednesday night, but he’s also submitted two of the best starts of the 2018 postseason.
“Like I’ve been saying all along, we’re all in every day and if we feel there’s a chance to close the door with him, we’ll use him,” manager Alex Cora said.
Eovaldi arguably has been the nastiest pitcher this postseason, compiling a 1.65 ERA in 16 1/3 innings over five outings. It’s the sixth-lowest ERA of any playoff pitcher in the last five years with at least 15 innings.
The Red Sox have won all five games in which he’s pitched.
“He has to know how good his stuff is,” knuckleballer Steven Wright said. “His stuff is some of the best stuff I’ve ever seen, both velocity-wise and movement-wise.
“Guys who command a fastball at 100 mph (are) just impressive. That’s Nolan Ryan status, and I think he might even have better control than Nolan Ryan did.”
The beauty of Eovaldi’s outings is that they’ve come at all different times.
Despite his dominance over the New York Yankees all year, the Red Sox made Eovaldi the No. 3 starter in the American League Division Series. The first time he took the ball in the playoffs, he silenced a historic Yankees lineup, holding them to just one run in seven strong innings of work.
Against the Astros in the ALCS Eovaldi again was pushed back to the No. 3 spot, and again he overpowered one of the game’s best lineups, holding them to two runs in six innings for another Red Sox win.
Two days later, pitching on just one day of rest for the second time in his career, Eovaldi shut the door in a scoreless eighth inning as the Red Sox clinched a World Series berth. He touched 102 mph in that game as he struck out Alex Bregman on an electric fastball.
In the World Series, Cora threw a curveball and asked Eovaldi to prepare as the eighth-inning guy to start the series.
He handled the Dodgers in a 1-2-3 eighth in Game 1, then did it again Wednesday night, pitching on back-to-back days for the first time in his career.
Told that Rick Porcello was named Friday’s starter in Game 3, Eovaldi said, “If I’m starting that day, I’m starting that day. If I’m not, I stay locked in in the bullpen.”
And this is a guy who didn’t pitch until May 30 this year after coming back from his second Tommy John surgery.
“Well, we gave Nate the protection of a 10-day rest period where we rested him,” pitching coach Dana LeVangie said. “That was his protection. We allowed him some rest, knowing and respecting what he’s gone through the last couple years, dealing with the injuries.”
Now Cora said the Red Sox could use Eovaldi in a setup role again, if the situation calls for it.
“I think the hardest thing for guys to do when you’re coming out of the bullpen and you’re more of a starter, it’s the mental aspect and the quickness,” said Wright, no stranger to bouncing between the ’pen and the rotation. “With Alex this year, I always had an idea of when I was going to throw. You always had an idea. I don’t know for a fact, but I assume they’re doing the same thing with (Eovaldi). Like, ‘Hey, this is what you’re going to be used for.’ So they’re giving him ample time to get ready, because that’s the other thing. Usually as a starter, you need a little bit longer.”
Wright agreed with Brock Holt, who said earlier in the day the biggest difference between John Farrell and Cora as managers is that Cora goes above and beyond communicating with the players.
“There hasn’t been one time I’ve been questioning what my role is going to be,” Wright said. “Especially with me and my knee, there hasn’t been one time where they didn’t give me plenty of time. Every time.
“They’ve called down sometimes when there’s a quick inning, like, ‘Are you good? Do you need more time?’ That pays off during the course of a season when you have a manager that is willing to protect his players, regardless of what anybody else says. And you see it all the time.”
Eovaldi said he doesn’t care when he pitches. He said he gets hot quickly out of the bullpen, and the Red Sox have taken advantage of his willingness to do anything.
“Nate is in,” LeVangie said. “He’s in before you ask him, regardless what you ask him. He wants to pitch. He knows where we’re at, it’s something special we’re chasing and Nate wants to be a part of this championship team.”
On Wednesday night, the Red Sox were using Eovaldi “only sort of like Chris Sale in New York,” LeVangie said. “If we’re going to use Nathan in this game, we want to win this game. Knowing he potentially starts in Los Angeles in a couple days, we’re all in to win this game.”
The Red Sox have proved their best reliever actually is their No. 3 starter.
“I think for him right now, he’s just raring back and giving everything he’s got,” starter/reliever Drew Pomeranz said. “That’s what makes him so good. He can throw. He’s throwing 102 mph out there and it looks fun to him.”