LOS ANGELES – Alex Cora has said it a few times this postseason, and each time he has, it has prompted less and less dissent.
“I’ve been saying it all along, probably the best stuff in the playoffs as far as pitchers,” Cora said.
Nathan Eovaldi, his Game 4 starter in this World Series — unless, of course, Cora decided Friday night that he needed the righthander in Game 3.
Which he did . . . but not in the inning he expected. Eovaldi pitched a perfect 12th Friday night with the score tied at 1-1. The Dodgers’ Joc Pederson had homered off Rick Porcello in the third inning and Boston’s Jackie Bradley Jr. had homered off Kenley Jansen in the eighth.
“He’s throwing 101 [mph], 102, cutters at 95 and attacking the strike zone like no others,” Cora said. “I mentioned about Charlie Morton last year, what he did throughout the playoffs, and it seems like Nate, he's becoming that guy.”
The situations aren’t exactly analogous, though there are similarities.
As the bench coach with the world champion Astros last season, Cora watched Morton, a starter, go 2-1 with a 4.24 ERA in five postseason appearances. The first four were starts, but in Game 7 of the World Series, Houston manager A.J. Hinch -- who had zero faith in his relievers after watching them get beaten up in the ALCS and much of the World Series – brought on Morton against the Dodgers. He earned the win in the 5-1 victory, allowing one run and two hits in four innings.
Eovaldi, a Yankee in 2015 and 2016, has been equally proficient in both roles in this postseason, posting a 1.65 ERA in five appearances.
He allowed one run and five hits in seven innings in Boston’s 16-1 victory over the Yankees in ALDS Game 3, then allowed two runs and six hits in six innings in an 8-2 victory over the Astros in ALCS Game 3. Two days later, Eovaldi pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings in the 4-1 Game 5 clincher. He then had back-to-back scoreless relief outings of an inning each in the first two games of the World Series, the reason Cora said he wouldn’t hesitate to use him in Game 3 if the situation arose and then figure out Game 4 from there.
“I've been saying it, we're all in,” Cora said Friday, also mentioning Game 2 starter David Price as a bullpen possibility for Game 3. “They know it, they understand. They understand how we are managing the game, how we're attacking the opposition. And if they're healthy, they're willing to take the risk.”
Not every starter makes such a smooth transition -- or wants to, for that matter -- from starter to reliever (not to mention back to starter again), but it hasn’t been an issue with Eovaldi.
“I think it’s seamless because he allows it to be seamless,” said Larry Rothschild, Eovaldi’s pitching coach with the Yankees, earlier this week. “It’s just his personality. In the cases where guys do that, it’s more personality … A lot of your great ones are that way. But that transition is a lot smoother because of personality and not necessarily stuff.”
Cora told Eovaldi, who was acquired from the Rays at the non-waiver trade deadline in late July, about his potential bullpen role before the playoffs started.
“I was prepared for it,” Eovaldi said. “Any time that you can help the team win, I feel like that's the biggest part of it. Like I’ve said, you're built up for 100 pitches, so if you could break it down to 10, 20 pitches, I feel like it's OK. You don't really take that much of a toll. A lot of times the managers do a good job of not bringing you in right after a start, the day after. It would be more so like on one of your bullpen days, that you're already going to be throwing 20, 30, 40 pitches [anyway].”
Eovaldi prefers to start and sees himself as a starter, which is the role in which he’ll hit the free-agent market after the season. But that isn’t to say he hasn’t embraced relieving.
“I like a lot of things about it,” he said. “The adrenaline rush you get coming out of the pen. I'd say you've got to stay locked in the entire time. One of the toughest parts for me [is] you really don't know when you're coming in exactly. But I like coming out of the pen a lot.”
Red Sox lead series, 2-0
Game 1: Red Sox 8, Dodgers 4
Game 2: Red Sox 4, Dodgers 2
Game 3: Friday, Boston at L.A. Dodgers , 8:09 p.m.
Game 4: Saturday, Boston at L.A. Dodgers, 8:09 p.m.
x-Game 5: Sunday, Boston at L.A. Dodgers, 8:15 p.m.
x-Game 6: Tuesday, L.A. Dodgers at Boston, 8:09 p.m.
x-Game 7: Wednesday, L.A. Dodgers at Boston, 8:09 p.m.
All games on Ch. 5