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Red Sox avoid sweep as Eduardo Rodriguez turns lights out on Baltimore Orioles hitters

April 24, 2017 GMT

BALTIMORE — Welcome back, Eduardo Rodriguez.

The Red Sox rotation has needed you.

Before Matt Barnes threw a pitch near the head of Manny Machado that ignited any lingering tension between the Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles after Machado’s spikes-up slide injured Dustin Pedroia on Friday, Rodriguez returned to the Red Sox rotation and was almost unhittable for six innings against his former team.

The left-hander led the Sox to a 6-2 win against the Orioles to avoid a series sweep and head back to Fenway Park with at least a little momentum after losing the first two games.

“It seems like every time I pitch here, I feel good,” Rodriguez said. “That’s what happens when you feel good, you throw a good game.”

For the first six innings, Rodriguez was hardly ever around the plate, firing a steady dose of mid-90s fastballs and high-80s changeups — a pitch he throws better than most — all around the outskirts of the strike zone. He tied a career high by walking five batters, but struck out seven and allowed just one hit, a single by Chris Davis in the fifth inning.

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It was about as good as Rodriguez has been since last season, when he finished with a 3.24 ERA over his final 14 starts.

“Yeah I think since the All-Star break last year, that’s an outing that’s pretty reminiscent of some others where the strikeouts are there,” manager John Farrell said. “I’d like to see the walks be cut down, because he creates a little traffic for himself and it prevents him from getting further into ballgames. But a talented, talented pitcher.”

With Rick Porcello, Steven Wright and Drew Pomeranz still searching to start the year, Rodriguez’ 3.12 ERA ranks second to Chris Sale among Red Sox starters.

“I felt like my shoulder was a little stronger today,” Rodriguez said. “I was able to have the velocity I wanted to have.”

Rodriguez is just the second starting pitcher to hold the Orioles lineup scoreless this season. The other was Toronto right-hander Marco Estrada, who also has one of the best changeups in baseball.

The free-swinging Orioles entered the game with 23 homers. Rodriguez took advantage of their aggression by setting hitters up with his sinking changeup and then making them chase pitches high above the zone. He recorded only three ground ball outs, but five outs on fly balls, a dangerous game to play in Camden Yards.

But Rodriguez has owned this park since the O’s traded him to the Red Sox for Andrew Miller in 2014. He has a 1.34 ERA with 40 strikeouts in 332/3 innings over six career starts in Baltimore.

He wasn’t concerned with a handful of walks.

“I feel like a couple of those walks were almost on purpose because, like with (Jonathan) Schoop, it was a 3-0 count, it’s a dangerous hitter, and you’d better pitch around the corners,” he said. “I’ll take a walk rather than a homer.”

Kevin Gausman has often had success against the Red Sox, but not yesterday.

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Gausman entered the game with an abysmal 13-12 strikeout-walk ratio. And while he flashed a fastball in the high-90s and sinking two-seamer, the Red Sox had no trouble hitting it.

The first four batters of the game reached base against him. Xander Bogaerts and Andrew Benintendi hit matching singles, then Mookie Betts and Hanley Ramirez went back-to-back with long balls to put the Sox up, 4-0.

“That might be one of the few games we’ve actually scored some runs in the first inning,” Farrell said.

The Red Sox had entered the day ranked last in the majors with just eight homers in 18 games, five homers behind the next closest team. And they had scored just six combined runs in their last four games, three of which were losses.

Mitch Moreland added his second homer of the year, a solo shot in the fifth inning.

Benintendi was 5-for-5, the first time in his career he’s had more than three hits in a game.

“I don’t think that the power numbers right now — it doesn’t mean anything,” Benintendi said. “It’s still early. Everybody talks about how we haven’t hit home runs but I don’t see what the problem is. We’re getting on base and scoring runs.”

The Red Sox are off today and return home for a three-game series beginning tomorrow with the New York Yankees.