BOSTON -- For Rubby De La Rosa, it’s never been about the stuff. What it has been about is the location and the sequencing of the stuff.
With a fastball that topped 100 miles per hour in his first start this season and a changeup in the range of the high 80s to low 90s, the 25-year-old Red Sox right-hander has the tools to be a frontline major league starter.
What De La Rosa showed during Monday night’s 1-0 shutout win over the Minnesota Twins was, at first, the makings of what had kept the Dominican Republic native from getting to Boston sooner. Through three innings, De La Rosa walked three and labored through the first nine outs, needing 50 pitches.
From there, De La Rosa showed restraint. After wiggling out of the third without allowing a run -- thanks to a perfect cut-off play by Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mike Napoli -- De La Rosa retired 13 straight to finish his night with seven scoreless innings of one-hit ball. He threw 106 pitches (a career high) and turned in the Red Sox's fifth straight quality start.
Although his fastball is, by its nature, overpowering, De La Rosa’s performance was calculated. De La Rosa, who was part of the package that came to Boston in the 2012 post-trade deadline blockbuster that purged the contracts and baggage of Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, used 13 ground-ball outs to stifle the Twins. He did so by throwing that fastball to contact.
“The awareness to what hitters did to him the last two starts, both in Baltimore and Detroit -- to go out and trust his fastball a little bit more, that set the tone,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “I think, more than anything, he should have gained some additional trust in the use of that pitch. It’s 93-98, he’s got plenty to go to.”
Then, and only when De La Rosa was ahead in the count, he could counter with the changeup, which he used to finish each of his three strikeouts.
“I throw one [the changeup] for the strikeout and one [the fastball] for contact,” De La Rosa said. “If I go 1-2, or 2-2, we’re not looking for contact.”
Burke Badenhop nearly gave it away, but the right-hander extended his streak of scoreless innings to 15 2/3, giving Junichi Tazawa a night off while finishing the eighth. Although Badenhop loaded the bases with two outs, he reached back to get Brian Dozier swinging to end the threat.
Koji Uehara was perfect in the ninth for his 15th save of the season.
“A lot of emphasis isn’t given to tie ballgames just because you’re not in there with the lead all the time,” Badenhop said. “When you get in there with a tie game, [in the] 12th, 13th, 14th inning, whatever else ... I come on in the sixth -- those are games on the line just as much as if you’re up one, two or three.”
But De La Rosa was just a little brighter. He hasn’t allowed a run in his two career starts at Fenway (14 innings total), becoming the first Red Sox pitcher since 1914 to start his tenure under such circumstances.
“Part of his learning curve is happening in front of our eyes,” Farrell said.
Even with that being said, it’s possible De La Rosa might not be long for Boston. With Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront working their way back on minor league rehabilitation stints, De La Rosa could be heading back to Triple-A Pawtucket before long.
“I’m not going to think about that now,” De La Rosa said.
His case to stick does come with some thought -- the attention to detail in Monday night’s win.
The throwing -- as it always has -- takes care of the rest.
“When a guy possesses that type of arm and that kind of repertoire,” Farrell said, “as long as he throws strikes, he’s going to have the ability to attack the best hitters in the game.”