NEW YORK — Rays veteran right-hander Nathan Eovaldi insists he doesn't pay a lick of attention to the trade rumors or the number of scouts in the stands.
But if he keeps pitching like he did in Sunday's 9-0 win over the Mets, he's going to make himself a trending topic of discussion, and maybe land the Rays a valuable piece in return.
Eovaldi dazzled from the start, retiring the first 18 Mets in order before allowing his only hit, a Brandon Nimmo single leading off the seventh, during his spectacular outing. He struck out nine, to go with the one hit and no walks over seven innings, throwing 59 of his 79 pitches for strikes.
"Just an outstanding, dominant performance,'' manager Kevin Cash said.
Eovaldi was so sharp, mixing an elevated fastball with a fiendish cutter he threw to both sides of the plate while getting enough quick outs to keep his pitch count down, that catcher Jesus Sucre was feeling confident they'd make history.
"I thought we had a perfect game for sure,'' Sucre said. "After Joey Wendle made that (third-inning diving catch) in leftfield, I was like, we have something going on right here. … They didn't have much chance.''
Eovaldi ended up matching the second longest bid for a perfect game in Rays history. Only Chris Archer, who retired the first 19 in a July 29, 2015, game against Detroit, came closer.
Eovaldi said he knew what he had going, but even with the comfort of an early 5-0 lead remained focused enough to not let it distract him.
"I was aware of it pretty much from the third inning,'' Eovaldi said. "I knew I was feeling good. Sookie was back there and we were on the same page right away. (C.J.) Cron had the home run, the three-run shot, so we had a good lead. Just trying to have as fast of innings as possible.''
His only regret Sunday was that the pitch Nimmo lined to right was poorly located, a cutter that was supposed to be away but caught too much of the plate: "That was on me.''
Had he not allowed the hit, Cash would have left him in.
Eovaldi, 28, has shown a lot this season, most significantly that he is as good as ever. Fully recovered from the second Tommy John surgery he had in August 2016 and spent all last year rehabbing. No lingering issues from the March 28 arthroscopic procedure that delayed his season debut until May 30. And maybe even a better pitcher is terms of having a keener sense of the benefits of getting ahead in counts and finishing hitters off for quick outs.
He threw six no-hit innings that first night in Oakland when he was on a limited pitch count — making him now the only pitcher in Rays history to carry two no-hitters through six innings twice in the same season — and has been relatively sharp through his eight starts. Two starts ago he took a not-hitter two outs into the sixth before allowing a double to Washington's Bryce Harper.
"His stuff is pretty powerful,'' Cash said. "It's electric. When you're throwing 94-95 mile an hour cutters what that type of late action, you see the swings that some of those lefties, and the righties, take. …
"From a health standpoint, he looks 100 percent in my opinion. The way he's come back and commanded the baseball since coming back having a year off is probably the most impressive thing. He throws strike after strike.''
The way Eovaldi is throwing, with an 0.95 ERA over his last three starts (two earned runs in 19 innings) and 3-3, 3.35 overall, the Rays certainly will have the opportunity to trade him. Plus, he's cheap, with just the balance of a $2 million salary, and a simple rental, as he's a free agent after the season.
There really is no reason for them to not trade him, even if he somehow wasn't out of their price range since he could be re-signed over the winter. At least a half dozen contending teams that could use help were at Citi Field watching him Sunday, including the Braves, Brewers, Cubs, Diamondbacks, Giants and Yankees.
The level of speculation is going to increase as the July 31 deadline nears that he join that long list of starters traded by the Rays.
"It's the nature of the business,'' Cash said. "It's probably the nature of what's taken place here for a couple years now with the organization. When we want to end that, we're going to start winning more games.
"We've got good players that teams are going to want to come ask about. We've got to do our due diligence as an organization to hear that. But I don't think Nate being a veteran that it's going to bother him. He's been traded before. Keep your nose to the grindstone and keep doing what you're doing.''
Eovaldi said that's definitely his plan.
"I feel like I'm pretty good at staying focused on the things I can control and that's going out there and pitching,'' he said. "I feel like social media, you get to say whatever you want. I don't have any of that stuff. I just try to stay focused on baseball.
"Trade rumors, all that stuff, this is the time all that stuff starts to pop up and this is when you have to really have that tunnel vision and focus on the you can control, and that's pitching.''
That, he's been doing very well. Where he will be doing it in a few weeks, we'll see.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Rays