Offset by a demotion, a promotion, and the All-Star break, Rubby De La Rosa had been disrupted from his routines leading into Saturday night’s start against the Royals – and, early on, it showed.
He walked the leadoff man on four pitches. He yielded a solid single two batters later, allowed two runners to reach in the second inning, then surrendered a leadoff triple in the third. By then, five of the first 10 Kansas City hitters had reached.
But De La Rosa found a way to limit the damage, keeping the Royals to a single run, and then he found his groove. After those initial issues, only three of the next 12 KC hitters reached – two doing so on misplayed popup, and the third on a walk that was quickly undone by a double play. In the end he’d found a way to yield nothing more than that solo tally over seven innings and 105 pitches, ultimately leaving in line for a victory that improves him to 3-0 with a 1.38 ERA and .180 opponents' batting average in four starts at Fenway this season.
“It's always fun to pitch here,” said De La Rosa, who allowed five hits, and finished with just two strikeouts – but nine ground ball outs. “I feel comfortable here. I like the mound here. I love the fans."
De La Rosa didn’t have his best stuff by any stretch. He walked four, which was a season-high at the major-league level, and one of those free passes compounded an Alex Gordon single and a wild pitch to create some trouble in the sixth.
But what might’ve been most impressive about the 25-year-old’s performance was the way he pitched his way out of trouble. After stranding three over the first two frames, and working around a Jonny Gomes error in the fourth, his biggest test came in the fifth – when De La Rosa may have made his best pitches of the night.
The trouble began when miscommunication between Gomes and Brock Holt allowed a popup to fall safely between the left fielder and shortstop. De La Rosa should’ve been out of the inning, but instead he was forced to face the Royals’ No. 3 hitter, Eric Hosmer, with the go-ahead run at second in a 1-1 game.
Coming off a three-hit night Friday, Hosmer tried to jump on De La Rosa early, but missed with his swing. On the next pitch, the Red Sox righty made an excellent pitch, drilling the inside corner with 94 mph heat to run the count to 0-and-2. Hosmer hung tough by spoiling high gas on the next pitch, then taking a ball after that.
But after throwing four straight pitches at 94, De La Rosa dialed it back to 88 and got Hosmer to flail failingly at a nasty changeup that ran down and away from his left-handed swing. He never had a chance, and so the Royals missed a golden one.
Here's a look at the pitch location of that encounter, which goes to show the quality of the 0-1 pitch, and just how fooled Hosmer (in the midst of a 15-game hitting streak) was when hacking at 1-2:
“He was at his best with men on base tonight,” Farrell said. "He may have issued a few more walks than we have seen, particularly here in Fenway, where he's been outstanding any time he's taken the mound here at home, but even in the couple of situations where we gave an extra baserunner, he shut it down. He pitched with a lot of poise tonight, once again."
As it was against Hosmer, the changeup was effective for De La Rosa all night. Over the course of the contest, the righty generated nine missed swings -- five of which came on the change of pace, compared to the four that came on a fastball that lived at 93, 94, and peaked at 97 mph.
He threw 24 of them, 19 of those to lefties, who accounted for four of the five empty whiffs. And he threw them in unpredictable situations, which not only keeps the hitters off balance but also demonstrates his own confidence in that pitch as a weapon.
"Even a couple times tonight where he got down in the count, whether it was 2-0, 3-0, 3-1, and used the changeup to get himself in sync from a delivery standpoint," Farrell said. "He didn't allow their hitters, who are a very good fastball-hitting team, to sit on one pitch."
"I felt comfortable with my changeup. I wanted to throw a lot of changeups today because I knew these like to swing at a lot of the balls. I tried to make them hit my pitches."
He did, and with that he moved within one of Jon Lester for the team lead in starts allowing one run or less while pitching at least seven innings. It was De La Rosa's fourth such outing, and his ERA for the season is now 2.64 in 44.1 innings at the major-league level.
So, at the expense of Felix Doubront he's won himself a spot in the starting rotation for the foreseeable future. With that comes confidence. And the chance to settle into a routine.
"It's good. I feel that they believe in me. And I believe in myself," De La Rosa said. "I feel more comfortable. I feel more me. I feel more like I can do the job."