Boston Red Sox: Eduardo Rodriguez returns after unique surgery

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 15: Eduardo Rodriguez
BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 15: Eduardo Rodriguez /

Eduardo Rodriguez has been a roller coaster ride for Red Sox fans since Ben Cherington traded dominant relief pitcher Andrew Miller for him. From wondering who they were getting, to the thrill of his first three spectacular starts, to the ups and downs as he has worked through pitch tipping and knee injuries, are we finally about to see what he really is as a starting pitcher?

When a pitcher returns from knee surgery, it can be hard to be enthusiastic about their first few starts. The same rings true for Eduardo Rodriguez of the Boston Red Sox. Of course, in many cases, that surgery will have left the knee as less than it was before the injury. Some meniscus may have been removed. 

Ligaments that provide lateral stability may have been repaired or replaced. Arthritis may have developed as part of the injury and recovery process. So when Eduardo Rodriguez returns to the mound on Sunday, April 8, 2018, it is understandable if you are feeling apprehensive. But this isn’t a standard knee surgery.

Red Sox
SEATTLE, WA – JULY 24: Eduardo Rodriguez /

The injury that Rodriguez was dealing with was a patellar subluxation. More accurately, subluxations, as the issue was recurring. This is another way of saying his kneecap was partially dislocating. This can be quite painful, just ask Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Christopher Geary, who describes the process here:

"“Patellar subluxations or dislocations are a source of significant pain and can cause athletes or patients to not trust their knee. Once someone has had a dislocation or subluxation of their patella, they inevitably stretch or tear their medial patellofemoral ligament (MPFL), one of the ligaments on the inside of the knee responsible for stabilizing the kneecap through its range of motion. In a way, it is like the ACL of the kneecap – important for stability but somewhat easy to injure.”"

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The reason this injury is recurring is that the ligament affected, the MPFL doesn’t do a great job of healing. So once it is damaged the risk of additional subluxations increases. For many, changing activity types or levels and physical therapy can resolve the issue. But for a professional athlete, especially one landing on that leg repeatedly as part of their pitching motion, surgery can be necessary.

So… What’s up, Doc?

Thankfully, this surgery has a high level of success in athletes. Dr. Geary concludes:

"“In terms of results, the odds are in Rodriguez’ favor for a full return with a stable knee. A recent meta-analysis (a group of studies whose results are pooled together) looking at results of MPFL reconstruction surgeries from the American Journal of Sports Medicine showed very favorable results, with 84.1 percent of patients returning to their sports and with recurrent instability being very low, at 1.2 percent. It is safe to say that while Rodriguez’ recovery may be long, his results should be predictable and reliable…”"

Essentially, the operation removes the source of instability. So the patient merely needs to learn to trust the knee again once they can get back to real competition. For Rodriguez, that last step of the process begins on Sunday. He may be a little tentative at first, so we may see lower velocities in the early innings. But don’t be surprised if he ramps it up after a few frames, seeing that the knee feels strong.

Red Sox
FT. MYERS, FL – FEBRUARY 24: Eduardo Rodriguez /

What’s next for Eduardo Rodriguez?

At worst, I expect we’ll start seeing flashes of the exciting young pitcher who tantalized Red Sox fans after a few starts. Sox fans will recall him posting an 0.44 ERA with 21 K, 7 BB and an 0.73 WHIP over his first 20 and ⅔ IP before stumbling for the first time. Not to mention averaging 94-95 mph on his fastballs.

He is still plenty young enough to take a step forward and become a strong number 2 pitcher. He has always had the stuff, but health has kept him back. With that recurring issue behind him, Rodriguez can focus solely on moving forward and finally be building consistency as one of the rotation’s most dangerous weapons.

Next: Six Sox prospects to watch for in 2018

And, as we dug into here, if Rodriguez returning to health is mirrored by Drew Pomeranz doing the same and David Price is as healthy as he looks, this Boston Red Sox rotation could be the best in baseball very soon.