Eduardo Rodriguez picked Detroit Tigers in free agency. Now he prepares to face his old team

Detroit Free Press

Eduardo Rodriguez isn’t fazed by his opponents, even if they’re his friends.

His father. His mother. His siblings.

Babe Ruth.

Rodriguez, to explain his way of thinking for his upcoming start, took a hypothetical approach, rattling off that list Tuesday morning in front of his locker in the Detroit Tigers‘ clubhouse.

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“If somebody steps in the (batter’s) box against me, I’m going to strike them out,” Rodriguez said, charged with confidence. “That’s the way I see it. That’s the way I learned. As soon as I step over the line and go on the mound, no matter who is there, I got to strike them out.”

This mindset matters because Rodriguez — who signed a five-year, $77 million contract with the Tigers this offseason — will face the Boston Red Sox in Wednesday’s series finale at Comerica Park.

The 29-year-old left-hander pitched his first seven seasons for that franchise, making his MLB debut in 2015, winning the 2018 World Series and finishing sixth in American League Cy Young voting in 2019.

Aside from the on-field achievements, Rodriguez made lifelong friendships and memories with his now-former teammates. They stuck by his side when tested positive for COVID-19 and missed the entire 2020 season with myocarditis.

“The friendships I have with all of them, that’s the only thing I miss,” Rodriguez said. “After all, this is a business, and when you have to make a decision, you got to make it. I did it for my family, too. Now, I’m here.”

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Red Sox manager Alex Cora holds a special place in Rodriguez’s heart, too.

“He was like a brother, like a father, a mentor to me,” Rodriguez said. “He helped me a lot to be where I am right now, and I really appreciate everything that he did for me when I was over there.”

The feeling is mutual.

But Cora admits, despite the friendships across the away, seeing Rodriguez on the mound with the Old English D on his jersey, rather than “Red Sox” across his chest, will be strange. Before signing with the Tigers, Rodriguez turned down a one-year, $18.4 million qualifying offer from the Red Sox.

The Red Sox wanted to re-sign him, but Rodriguez picked Detroit after developing a strong connection with Tigers manager A.J. Hinch during a personal meeting.

“He got his dream come true, right?” Cora said Tuesday. “Get that big money and support his family. Obviously, he probably would have loved to stay here, but it just didn’t work out. We’re very proud of him, but tomorrow, we’ve got to kick his ass.”

When Rodriguez takes the mound Wednesday, the Tigers’ No. 1 starter will try to bounce back from a troublesome Opening Day start, where his lack of execution was salvaged by late-game heroics from Miguel Cabrera, Eric Haase and Javier Báez in Friday’s 5-4 win over the Chicago White Sox.

Rodriguez allowed three runs on four hits and two walks in four innings. He struck out two batters.

“I didn’t have my command at all,” Rodriguez said.

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The psychology Rodriguez will apply against his old team comes from Hall of Fame right-hander Pedro Martínez, who won three AL Cy Young awards, five ERA titles and the 2004 World Series as part of his 18-year MLB career. He pitched seven seasons for the Red Sox and currently serves as a special assistant to the general manager.

Martínez, through his advice to Rodriguez, could be the difference in Wednesday’s result.

“It’s going to be who makes the right guess,” Rodriguez said. “They know me, and I know them. They know the way I pitch and the way I like to pitch. I know the way they like to hit and what they like to hit. So, I feel like it’s going to be who makes the best guess.”

Rodriguez is most excited to clash with Xander Bogaerts, a three-time All-Star and two-time World Series champion who hit .295 with 23 home runs in 144 games last season as Boston’s shortstop.

“Everybody there is my friend,” Rodriguez said. “Bogaerts has been like a brother to me. I can’t to wait to face him.”

Is there a secret to getting him out?

Rodriguez smiled.

“I don’t know,” he said.

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzoldRead more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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