Nathan Eovaldi is back. The pitcher who carried the Texas Rangers in the first half of the season made his return on Wednesday afternoon. It was a welcome sight for Texas Rangers' fans and a dreadful sight for the few fans who showed up on Wednesday afternoon to Tropicana Field. It has certainly been a journey for Eovaldi to get to this point. He returned off the IL on September 5th against the Houston Astros. He barely made it to the second inning in a game that Texas lost 14-1. Ever since then he has been trying desperately to build up to this point. Every start he made he saw some progress, but it was incremental at best.
The long journey Eovaldi made to be ready for game 2 of the playoffs
Eovaldi followed up that 1 1/3 innings thrown against Houston with another start just a few days later. This time he went 2 1/3 innings against Oakland and gave up zero runs, but walked two. His third start was against Toronto in that important four-game series at the Rogers Centre. He pitched 3 1/3 innings in that start and gave up two runs, but walked three. His fourth start was against Boston and he started showing more progress that night. He went five innings against the Red Sox, giving up three runs and walking three. He followed that up with another five inning start this time against Seattle. He gave up five runs in the start but struck out six and walked two.
His final regular season he started to put it all together. Through two innings he had three strikeouts and had retired all six hitters he faced. Then it all came apart in the third inning. He gave up two home runs and an RBI-double. Then in the fourth the Mariners continued with a single, a walk, and an RBI single that led him to being removed from the game. The results were not there, but the stuff was. His velocity ticked up to where he needs it to be, but in the third he just stopped making quality pitches.
The Texas Rangers went into game two having no idea which version of Eovaldi would show up. Was it going to be the pitcher who dominated for two innings or the one that followed that up by allowing four runs over the next 1 1/3 innings? It would be neither of those pitchers on Wednesday afternoon.
The Return of the King on Wednesday
Nathan Eovaldi on Wednesday afternoon pitched with confidence on Wednesday afternoon. He was able to effectively use his fastball on either side of the plate, he had Rays' hitters swinging wildly at his splitter, and maintained his velocity throughout his start. Eovaldi when asked about his stuff on Wednesday said this,
"I was able to locate the fastball down and away, and I feel like I haven't been able to do that lately. That was a confidence booster out there, knowing that I have that pitch working, being able to rely on my fastball and my splitter as well. I thought I had really good action on that, just to keep the hitters off balance, and then I had a good mix with my curveball in there"- Nathan Eovaldi
The most important tell of health with Eovaldi is whether his fastball velocity up around 95-96mph or down around 91-92 mph. On Wednesday it was consistently around 96mph.
Eovaldi much like Montgomery in game 1 did an excellent job of keeping Rays' hitters off base. Tampa through the first six innings, never had more than one runner on base. We made mention of that in our preview that Tampa is dangerous with runners on base.We mentioned that Texas pitching would would have to do their best to minimize the number of batters that reach in order to effectively control the Rays running attack. Eovaldi and Montgomery did just that.
Eovaldi in game two through six innings had allowed no runs, three hits, and struck out eight. He ran out of gas in the seventh. That was to be expected. He had not pitched more than five innings since his return from the IL. He gave up three hits and a run in the seventh before being removed with two outs for Josh Sborz.
What does this mean for Texas going forward?
Eovaldi having this much success has huge implications for the Rangers going forward. Starting pitching was a question mark heading into this round. Now with how Montgomery is dominating and Eovaldi seems to be back, the starting rotation is less of a question mark and more of an asset. News continues to get better about Max Scherzer. Scherzer threw a full bullpen session on Wednesday according to the Dallas Morning News. It is a possibility that Scherzer could be back if the Rangers advance to the ALCS.
Texas has a shot to win this series against Baltimore. A top three in the rotation of Montgomery, Eovaldi, and Dunning matches up very well with Baltimore. If Texas can at least get a split in Baltimore, then I like their chances of finishing it off at home.
Eovaldi has been a great postseason pitcher throughout his career and he seems to returning to form at just the right time. If he can continue pitching this way he might have a few more starts to make this season and more hearts to break.