Eduardo Rodriguez is a big part of Boston's chances to dethrone the Toronto Blue Jays as AL East champions, and the Red Sox left-hander's strong season debut was a good sign that he's ready to contribute.
Rodriguez makes his second start Sunday looking to help the Red Sox win this three-game series against the Blue Jays at Fenway Park.
Rodriguez (1-0, 3.00 ERA) went 10-6 with a 3.85 ERA as a rookie last season and was expected to be a big part of the Boston rotation until he strained his patellar tendon early in spring training.
After rehabbing, the 23-year-old made five appearances with Triple-A Pawtucket before coming off the disabled list with a quality start against Baltimore on Tuesday. He allowed two runs in six innings with three strikeouts in a 6-2 victory.
"It was good to be back," Rodriguez told MLB's official website. "Pitched pretty good and I located my pitches pretty good. My changeup was a great key tonight."
He threw 61 of 89 pitches for strikes, didn't issue a walk and got his fastball up into the mid-90s - though manager John Farrell saw room for improvement.
"We've seen better velocity before," Farrell said, "but I thought he stayed away from the middle of the plate for the most part. He threw a lot of strikes, he forced them to swing the bat when he did get into a 3-2 count. He pitched very comfortably."
Rodriguez rejoins a rotation that is getting plenty of help from the lineup with a major league-leading 7.06 run-support average, and Boston's bats emphatically welcomed him back with four homers, including three from Mookie Betts.
The Red Sox (33-23) were quieted by the Blue Jays (30-27) in Friday's series-opening 6-2 loss before David Ortiz and Betts got the offense back on track Saturday.
Ortiz drove in two runs to give him an MLB-leading 53, while Betts got two hits and also had two RBIs to help Boston end a three-game losing streak with a 6-4 victory.
''He's done it for so long,'' Betts said of Ortiz. ''He just knows how everything goes. It's fun to be a part of more than amazing. He's got more left, too.''
A day after his 26-game hit streak ended, Xander Bogaerts went 3 for 4 and scored twice.
Toronto had won nine of 11 overall but lost for the fifth time in seven meetings after winning four of the first five this season. The Blue Jays still have a strong record in recent years at Fenway, posting a 26-17 mark there since the start of 2012.
Rodriguez would probably prefer to forget his one career start against the Blue Jays at Boston's famed ballpark nearly a year ago, when he was hammered for nine runs in 4 2/3 innings of a 13-5 loss June 14. However, he bounced back nicely at Toronto on June 30 with six innings of one-run ball in Boston's 4-3 victory.
The pitcher who has faced Rodriguez in both his starts against the Blue Jays will be opposite him again and is pitching very well of late.
Marco Estrada (3-2, 2.43 ERA) has won back-to-back starts - both against the New York Yankees - for his first taste of victory since winning his season debut April 10. The right-hander is 2-0 with a 1.57 ERA over his last three starts after tossing eight scoreless innings in a 4-2 win Monday.
"To be honest, I've seen him do that many times, so I can't say he had one of his best outings, because he does that a lot," manager John Gibbons said. "But he stepped up, and he just faced these guys the other day. That makes it even tougher on a pitcher, when everybody is familiar with you. He has been a great pitcher for us."