After lost COVID-19 season, Boston’s Eduardo Rodriguez a full go

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
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When Eduardo Rodriguez last pitched for Boston, he was chasing after the milestone of a 20-win season.

He fell short.

And then things really went wrong.

Instead of returning from the pandemic shutdown in July with the rest of baseball, Rodriguez was stuck in bed, sick with the coronavirus. When he recovered from that illness, doctors diagnosed him with myocarditis — a complication of COVID-19 that affects the heart and wound up costing him the entire 2020 season.

“After everything I went through, to be here with the guys, I’m really excited,” the 27-year-old left-hander said in a Zoom call with reporters on Friday from the Red Sox spring training complex in Fort Myers, Florida.

“I just thank God I had the chance to survive that and get back to baseball,” he said. “I’m really blessed to have a chance to get back here. You see a lot of people, the troubles that they have, people dying and all that. So having the chance to be back here is something I really feel happy about.”

Rodriguez went 13-5 for the Boston team that won a franchise-record 108 games and the World Series in 2018. He came into the next year overshadowed in the Red Sox rotation by Chris Sale, David Price and even Rick Porcello and Nathan Eovaldi.

But Rodriguez outpitched them all, going 19-6 with a 3.81 ERA to finish sixth in the AL Cy Young voting. He made his major league-leading 34th start on the final day of the season with a chance at 20 wins, but did not figure in the decision. Still, his wins, ERA, starts, 203 1/3 innings and 213 strikeouts were all career highs.

Rodriguez was lined up to start on opening day in 2020 before testing positive for the coronavirus and being diagnosed with inflammation in his heart muscles. He said he couldn’t even complete a 25-pitch workout without feeling tired; on Aug. 1, just one week into the season, he was shut down for the year.

“As a baseball player, you’re always doing something,” he said. “To just be out there, turning on the TV every night and watch everybody playing and I wasn’t part of that, it was hard for me.”

After reporting to camp this year, he said, he is ready to have “a regular spring training.”

“I don’t get fatigued any more,” Rodriguez said. “I feel the way I normally feel when I get to spring training. So I think everything’s going to be fine.”

Manager Alex Cora is counting on another workhorse season from Rodriguez, with Price and Porcello gone and Sale recovering from Tommy John surgery. But the manager said the most important thing was seeing Rodriguez arrive in camp healthy.

“Forget baseball,” Cora said. “It was a tough year for him, health-wise. For him to be able work out and go through his progression and be in the situation he is – amazing.”

Cora said Rodriguez has been cleared for full activities since October. He pitched a bullpen session on Wednesday and had no problems; the team will continue to monitor him.

“We have to pay attention. That doesn’t mean we’re going to slow him down,” Cora said. “The way he reacts is going to determine how much we give him.”

Rodriguez was asked if he had advice for those who weren’t taking the pandemic seriously.

“Just wear your mask, wash your hands,” he said. “It’s not a thing that we can play around with.”

Pujols has 2 more RBIs, Cardinals beat Pirates 8-7 in 10

Cincinnati Reds v St. Louis Cardinals
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PITTSBURGH – Albert Pujols drove in two more runs and the St. Louis Cardinals went on to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-7 in 10 innings Tuesday night.

Pujols hit a two-run single in the third inning to push his career total to 2,218 RBIs. That came a night after he broke a tie with Babe Ruth for second place on the career list. Hank Aaron holds the record with 2,287.

Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol then removed the 42-year-old Pujols at the end of the inning. St. Louis opens postseason play Friday when it hosts a best-of-three National League wild-card series.

Juan Yepez gave the Cardinals the win when he hit a tiebreaking single with one in the 10th inning off Chase De Jong (6-3) to score automatic runner Ben Deluzio.

“Tonight was interesting because you’re fairly scripted in who you want to use and who you don’t want to use and what you want tomorrow to look like so you can get ready for Friday,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. “It was a good one to still figure out a way to come out on top.”

The Cardinals threw out the potential tying run at home in the bottom of the 10th when automatic runner Kevin Newman tried to score from second base on Oneil Cruz‘s line single off the glove of first baseman Alec Burleson. The ball deflected to second baseman Brendon Donovan, who threw home to catcher Andrew Knizner.

The Pirates challenged the call, but it was upheld on video review.

“I thought we were going to get it overturned,” Newman said. “I just thought he didn’t tag me until he got higher up on the body.”

It was the Pirates’ 100th loss, the second year in a row they have reached that mark.

The Cardinals got two hits each from Donovan, Corey Dickerson, Knizner and Paul DeJong.

Cruz had three hits for the Pirates and Bryan Reynolds, Rodolfo Castro, Jack Suwinski, Ke'Bryan Hayes and Ji-Hwan Bae added two apiece. Miguel Andujar drove in two runs.

Chris Stratton (10-4) pitched two scoreless innings for the win.

“They weren’t the prettiest two innings I’ve ever pitched but I got a great play from the defense in the 10th inning to help me out,” Stratton said. “It was a good play all the way around.’

Pujols’ hit put the Cardinals ahead 3-1 but the Pirates answered with six runs in the bottom of the third. Andujar’s run-scoring double highlighted an inning that includes RBI singles by Castro, Suwinski, Ben Gamel and Bae.

The Cardinals then scored four runs in the seventh inning to tie the score at 7-all. Donovan hit an RBI single, Dickerson drove in two runs with a double and the tying run scored on a throwing error by Cruz, the rookie shortstop.

Both starting pitchers lasted just 2 2/3 innings. The Cardinals’ Dakota Hudson was rocked for seven runs and nine hits while the Pirates’ JT Brubaker allowed three runs on four hits.

Brubaker was activated from the injured list before the game. He had been out since Sept. 16 with right lat discomfort.

HELSLEY HURT

Reliever Ryan Helsley, the Cardinals’ closer, left in the eighth inning with a jammed right middle finger. Helsley was injured after catching a line drive by Bae and using his hands to brace himself while dodging a piece of a broken bat.

Helsley said he expects to be ready to pitch Friday.

“I don’t think there was anything super wrong with it,” Helsley said. `Just give it some rest and let it resolve itself.”

ROSTER MOVES

The Pirates optioned right-hander Roansy Contreras to Triple-A Indianapolis to clear a roster spot for Brubaker. They also recalled infielder/outfielder Tucapita Marcano from Indianapolis and optioned catcher Jose Godoy to the same club.

PIRATES AWARDS

Center fielder Bryan Reynolds was voted the winner of the Roberto Clemente Award, emblematic of the Pirates’ MVP, by the Pittsburgh chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Mitch Keller won the Steve Blass Award for best pitcher. Former infielder Michael Chavis was voted the Chuck Tanner Good Guy Award.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Cardinals: OF Tyler O'Neill (strained right hamstring) has been ruled out for the wild-card series but St. Louis is hopeful he can play in the NLDS round if it advances. . 3B Nolan Arenado (left quadriceps tightness) missed his second straight game but could play Wednesday.

UP NEXT

Cardinals: Have not decided on a starter for Wednesday, though Marmol said LHP Matthew Liberatore (2-1, 5.46) and RHP Jake Woodford (4-0, 2.33) are possibilities.

Pirates: RHP Johan Oviedo (4-3, 3.12), who was acquired from the Cardinals on Aug. 1, gets the start.