The Dodgers’ former scouting director is talking about one of his favorite draft picks, and it’s not long before he draws what seems at first like an extreme comparison.
“I always used to tell him, ‘You’re gonna be the hardest throwing pitcher out of Alvin, Texas,’ ” Logan White said.
Nathan Eovaldi always balked at the notion, White said. Eovaldi’s hometown, which is about 30 miles south of Houston, was famous for one thing: being the childhood home of Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan.
But White hasn’t been wrong.
Eovaldi, a right-hander the Boston Red Sox have used out of the bullpen in the first two games of the World Series, has already thrown harder than what was recorded as Ryan’s fastest pitch, 100.9 mph in 1974, then a record. Eovaldi has touched 102 mph five times since the start of 2015, according to MLB’s Statcast system.
Velocity is one reason why Eovaldi has become one of the most dominant pitchers of this postseason. He’s reached triple digits in both games against the Dodgers, the team that drafted him in 2008 and traded him to the Miami Marlins for Hanley Ramirez four years later.
And there’s no relief for his former team in sight. Red Sox manager Alex Cora has tentatively named Eovaldi his starting pitcher for Game 4 at Dodger Stadium on Saturday. However, that plan could change if there’s another opportunity for Eovaldi to be Boston’s setup man for a third straight game on Friday.
“If we have a chance to be up 3-0 with him on the mound and Craig [Kimbrel], we’ll do it,” Cora said.
Set back by a laundry list of injuries, Eovaldi this year pitched in the major leagues for the first time since undergoing a second elbow ligament replacement surgery in late 2016. He was traded from the Tampa Bay Rays, the team that oversaw his rehab in 2017, to the Red Sox in July.
Eovaldi emerged as a reliable piece in Boston’s rotation: His 3.22 earned-run average in 11 games was the second-lowest among Red Sox starters the last two months of the season.
The steadiness morphed into dominance.
Eovaldi, 28, has compiled a 1.65 ERA over 16 1/3 innings in the first postseason of his career. It’s the sixth-lowest ERA of any playoff pitcher with at least 15 innings in the last five years.
“He’s just a terrific human being,” said White, who spent 13 years in the Dodgers scouting department before joining the San Diego Padres’ front office in 2014. “He’s very humble, unassuming. … But he didn’t doubt his ability to pitch in the big leagues from the time he signed.”
The Dodgers saw it coming long before Eovaldi’s career took him from the Marlins to the New York Yankees, the Rays and the Red Sox.
They fell for Eovaldi’s makeup — a strong 6-foot-3, 195-pound frame that could produce a mid-90s fastball; a persevering mind that could overcome elbow surgery as a high school junior — and picked him in the 11th round. They mustered their best bid of $250,000 to convince him to forgo enrolling at Texas A&M.
Eovaldi churned through the Dodgers’ farm system, establishing himself among their top 15 prospects. He earned a rotation spot on a full-season team right out of his first spring training and advanced one level each year after that — until skipping triple A.
When Eovaldi posted a 2.62 ERA and 1.18 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) in double-A in 2011, the Dodgers called him up in August. Scouting reports said his fastball ranged from 94-98 mph.
He returned to double-A only briefly the next year. The Dodgers chose to turn Eovaldi’s development over to pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and gave him another look in the rotation in May 2012.
The trade wasn’t a bad move. It’s just that now it’s come back to hurt the Dodgers.
“We [need] two more wins,” Eovaldi said. “I’m ready to do whatever it takes to get those two wins. And I feel like everyone is feeling the same way.”
As a starter in the first two rounds of the playoffs, Eovaldi held former Yankees teammates to five hits and one run over seven innings in a Game 3 American League Division victory, and he limited the Houston Astros to two runs on six hits and two walks over six innings in a victory in Game 3 of the AL Championship Series.
Eovaldi’s last three appearances have been out of the Red Sox bullpen, where Cora also has aggressively deployed fellow starters Chris Sale and Rick Porcello in relief to maximize matchups.
By the end of Wednesday’s perfect eighth inning against the Dodgers, Eovaldi had retired 10 of the last 11 batters he faced. He shut down the Dodgers in the eighth inning of a World Series game on consecutive nights.
Even with wind chilling the temperature into the 30s, Eovaldi mixed six 100-mph heaters among his 13 pitches Wednesday.
That other hard thrower from Alvin must have been proud. The man who predicted the resemblance is.
“You remember signing those guys when they’re 17 years old and it’s kind of a weird feeling,” White said. “Not quite like a parent watching their two kids compete, but very similar. So that’s kind of what I do. I hope that Cody [Bellinger] and Joc [Pederson] hit rockets off the other Red Sox pitchers when Nathan is doing great.”