TORONTO — Nathan Eovaldi prides himself on being a stopper, and he made like one Monday night at Rogers Centre.
His team reeling overall and struggling mightily on offense, Eovaldi tamed a heavy-hitting Toronto team to just two runs over a season high of seven innings. He walked none and struck out five.
If the Red Sox had won, much of the postgame talk would have centered on Eovaldi’s dominance and efficiency on a night he threw just 72 pitches.
But the 7-10 Red Sox didn’t win.
Instead of their recent woes ending after clearing customs, they continued, as Bo Bichette’s grand slam with one out in the eighth snapped a tie and lifted the American League East-leading Jays to a 6-2 victory.
Tough to waste such a tremendous effort from the ace starter?
“Absolutely,” Red Sox left fielder Alex Verdugo said. “I think our pitchers have been lights out. They’ve been really good. Nate up there today was just dominant, doing his thing. Any time you have a starter go that deep and only go two runs with this offense, most of the time, that’s going to go for us.
“We’re scuffling at the moment, but I feel like a lot of us are putting up good at-bats, hitting the ball hard, but we’re kind of chasing results right now.”
Chasing is an apt description.
Entering the night, Boston’s chase rate of 33.2% was the highest of any team in MLB.
For a team that prides itself on patience at the plate, this has been an oddity, one that has served as a catalyst in the Red Sox losing five of their past six and six of their past eight.
Over those eight games, the Sox have scored just 18 runs.
“The guys, the mentality in the clubhouse, everybody’s been good, we’ve been grinding, we’ve been positive,” Eovaldi said. “I think it’s just kind of waiting for that moment for everything to flip, and we’ll be back on the positive side of things.”
Clearly, Eovaldi’s start was the most positive development Monday. Due to the shortened Spring Training, Eovaldi hadn’t topped five innings in his previous three starts.
For him to get 21 outs Monday while throwing a season low of 72 pitches was encouraging.
It also makes you wonder if acting manager Will Venable was tempted to bring Eovaldi back out for the eighth.
“The way we were looking at it, we weren’t going to have him face the top of the order again, and it was a really good pocket for [Matt] Strahm,” said Venable, who guided the team for the fifth straight game as Alex Cora recovers from COVID-19. “We’d highlighted that spot going in, and Nate gave us everything we needed tonight, and regardless of pitch count, it was really a spot for Strahm.”
When Strahm got into trouble, Venable called on Tyler Danish, who had pitched in just two games this season — his first two in MLB since 2018.
Venable went for the double play, and the move backfired.
“We weren’t going to go to [Hansel] Robles without the lead and we’re looking to get a ground ball in that spot, and Danish has a great sinker,” Venable said. “Just left it over the plate, but we’re looking to get a ball on the ground. Danish was the guy for that.”
Bichette is paid to hit the ball in the air, and he pummeled the game-breaking slam — the first of his career — to the opposite field in right.
Did Eovaldi want to keep going?
“I felt great,” said Eovaldi. “Tonight, I had a hard time finding the pitch count [on the scoreboard] so I wasn’t really aware of the pitch count or where I was at. I knew I was in the seventh inning. Any time as a starter, you can get to the seventh inning, you’re going to rely on the bullpen guys. You trust that they’re going to be able to get it done. I trust whoever is coming in in that situation and I obviously respect Will’s decision.”
With three games left to go in this series, the Red Sox hope their momentum can start taking a drastic shift come Tuesday.
“We do need to make longer at-bats and make the starting pitchers work a little bit more,” Verdugo said. “We’re kind of getting them off the hook a little easy. We get guys on, we maybe chase the first pitch, and it’s not the one we want, and we ground out or things like that. Sometimes, aggressiveness is going against us. It’s baseball. It’s one of those things that at any point, momentum can change. You put one good swing on a ball, and it can change the game.”