ST. PETERSBURG — While the Rays were chasing the World Series last October, Eduardo Rodriguez was just trying to put his career back together.
A 19-game winner in 2019 and Boston’s expected opening day starter in 2020, Rodriguez tested positive for COVID just before the shortened season was supposed to begin last summer. After a high fever and a couple of weeks in bed, Rodriguez figured he had put the virus behind him and had returned to Boston by July with plans of working himself back into shape.
When he was unable to get through simple bullpen sessions due to high fatigue, the Red Sox sent him to a hospital for tests. The results were not just career-altering, but life-threatening. The virus had apparently led to a case of myocarditis, which is an inflammation of heart muscles. Any physical exertion whatsoever could have resulted in a fatal heart attack.
His season was over, and the rest of his life was put on hold. For three months, Rodriguez was essentially bed-ridden as the Red Sox stumbled to a 24-36 finish and the Rays won the American League East.
As Tampa Bay advanced through three rounds of playoffs last October, Rodriguez was finally cleared to begin working out and trying to shed the weight he had gained while binge-watching television all summer.
One year later, the Rays are back in the postseason and Rodriguez is back on the mound. The 28-year-old left-hander has been named Boston’s Game 1 starter against Tampa Bay in the American League Division Series.
“It’s just special,” Rodriguez said Wednesday. “I feel like it’s really special for me to have the opportunity to start a game like that.”
Rodriguez hasn’t been the same pitcher he was in 2019 when he finished sixth in the Cy Young Award balloting, but he did come up big for the Red Sox down the stretch. After going 10-7 with a 5.12 ERA in the first five months of the season, Rodriguez was 3-1 with a 3.19 ERA in September, including one shutout inning in relief in the wild card-clinching game against Washington on Sunday.
“The fact he will be the starter (in Game 1) I know means a lot to him and his family,” said Boston manager Alex Cora. “You know his support system has been amazing throughout, and we are very proud of him. I mean, what he has done this season, regardless of the ups and downs, he didn’t throw the ball extremely well at one point, but he has been very consistent throughout.
“He has been making adjustments every start and, you know, he has been getting better and better.”
Right-hander Nick Pivetta, who has started 30 games this season, will be in the bullpen for Game 1 with Chris Sale the expected starter in Game 2 on Friday. Cora said the Red Sox were still discussing their roster plans, including whether designated hitter J.D. Martinez would be available after sitting out the wild-card game against the Yankees Tuesday with an ankle sprain.
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“Obviously with (the Rays) you have to mix and match. They’re going to look for an advantage,” Cora said. “They put you in spots to try to maximize their lineup, but we will maximize our pitching staff.”
John Romano can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.
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