Eduardo Rodríguez named Red Sox’s opening day starter

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A year after a bout with COVID-19 denied him a chance to be the Red Sox’s opening day starter, Eduardo Rodriguez is getting a do-over.

Manager Alex Cora made the announcement Wednesday following Boston’s 9-1 exhibition win over Minnesota. Rodriguez threw an efficient 55 pitches, striking out six and giving up two hits and one earned run over five innings.

“Indeed it’s going to be Eduardo. He’s one of the best out there,” Cora said of the left-hander. “He had a great season in ’19. Last year he wasn’t able to pitch for obvious reasons. What he’s shown now, he’s healthy and he’s ready to go. . It was just a matter of time.”

Boston opens its schedule April 1 against the Baltimore Orioles.

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 at the bottom of the rotation behind Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello and Nathan Eovaldi.

But Rodriguez had the best season of the group, 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, he finished with career bests in wins, ERA, starts, innings (203 1/3) and strikeouts (213).

With Sale recovering from Tommy John surgery, Rodriguez was in line 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.

After putting the extended rest and recovery time to good use, he’s ready to take advantage of a chance he’s yet to have during his five major league seasons.

Speaking prior to Cora naming him the starter, Rodriguez told reporters he would be honored to get the ball in the opener.

“If given the opportunity I’m going to be so happy to do it because that’s something that everybody wants to do one time in their career,” he said. “If I have the opportunity this year I’m going to really appreciate it. I’m going to love it.”

Swanson, Olson go deep vs Scherzer, Braves take NL East lead

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ATLANTA — Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson homered off Max Scherzer, lifting the Atlanta Braves to a crucial 4-2 victory Saturday night over the New York Mets and a one-game lead in the NL East.

The defending World Series champions beat aces Jacob deGrom and Scherzer on consecutive nights to take their biggest lead of the season in the division. New York, which held a 10 1/2-game cushion on June 1, faces its biggest deficit of the year with four games remaining.

Atlanta will try for a three-game sweep Sunday night, with the winner earning the season-series tiebreaker between the teams. Even though both teams are headed to the postseason, that’s important because the NL East champion gets a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Swanson’s 24th homer, a go-ahead, two-run shot in the fifth inning, touched off a frenzy among the sold-out crowd at Truist Park, the ball sailing a few rows up into the seats in left-center to make it 3-2. Olson hit his 32nd homer in the sixth, a solo shot into Chop House seats in right to put Atlanta up 4-2.

Austin Riley led off the fourth with a double and scored on Olson’s single to make it 1-all.

Kyle Wright (21-5) gave up two runs and seven hits with one walk and three strikeouts in five innings as he won his eighth straight decision. The Braves have won 16 of his last 17 starts.

New York went up 2-1 in the fifth when Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil hit consecutive two-out singles.

The Mets led 1-0 in the first when Brandon Nimmo singled, advanced on a walk and a single and scored on Eduardo Escobar‘s groundout. Wright, who threw 30 pitches in the first, stranded two runners in scoring position to prevent further damage.

Scherzer (11-5) allowed a first-inning single to Riley and a third-inning infield single to Ronald Acuna Jr., who advanced to third on a fielding error by Lindor at shortstop but was stranded when Michael Harris II lined out to center. Scherzer patted his glove and pumped his fist as he walked off the mound.

Scherzer was charged with nine hits and four runs with no walks and four strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings as the Mets were knocked out of first place for only the third day all season.

The Braves have won five of the last six against New York to tie the season series 9-all, outscoring the Mets 37-16 over that stretch.

Atlanta’s bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA in September, got a perfect inning from Dylan Lee in the sixth. Jesse Chavez faced four batters in the seventh, Raisel Iglesias faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his NL-leading 39th save in 46 chances.

Since the Braves were a season low-tying four games under .500 at 23-27 after play on May 31, they have gone 76-32, tying the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in the majors over that span. They were a season-worst 10 1/2 games behind the first-place Mets on June 1.

Wright, the only 20-game winner in baseball this season, hasn’t officially become the first Braves pitcher to lead the league in wins outright since Russ Ortiz had 21 in 2003, but the Dodgers’ Julio Urias has 17 and can’t reach 20 before the regular season ends.

Wright will become the first Braves pitcher since Hall of Famer Tom Glavine in 2000 to lead the majors in wins. Houston ace Justin Verlander also has 17.

Wright began the game 1-4 with a 6.75 ERA in six career starts and one relief appearance against the Mets.

The Braves, who got homers from Riley, Olson and Swanson off deGrom on Friday, lead the NL with 240 homers.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets: All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. Manager Buck Showalter said Marte is experiencing less pain but not enough to take the next step in his recovery. Marte has been sidelined since Sept. 7.

Braves: RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique. Manager Brian Snitker said there is no timetable for the rookie’s return. Strider has been sidelined since Sept. 21.

NICE GLOVE

Harris ran back and jumped to catch Nimmo’s fly against the wall in center field for the first out of the third.

UP NEXT

Mets RHP Chris Bassitt (15-8, 3.27 ERA) will face RHP Charlie Morton (9-6, 4.29) as the teams conclude a three-game series.