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Rubby De La Rosa’s learning curve: Red Sox right-hander relies on electric fastball to toss seven scoreless

06.17.14 at 8:34 am ET
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Though the Red Sox could muster just one run against Twins pitching on Monday night, that would be all Rubby De La Rosa needed. Making his fourth start of the season, De La Rosa shut down Minnesota’s offense, holding the Twins to just one hit over seven impressive innings.

Though his past two outings weren’t particularly ugly (he gave up four runs in back-to-back starts against the Tigers and Orioles), De La Rosa made some necessary adjustments on Monday night and used his fastball, a pitch that’s velocity sits in the mid-90s and occasionally touches as high as 99, the majority of the time.

According to Brooks Baseball.net, 63 percent of De La Rosa’€™s 106 pitches were fastballs, while he threw 29 changeups and 10 sliders, though the true number of breaking balls might be up for debate, with the pitcher himself claiming he threw just four sliders on the outing.

The increase in the number of fastballs De La Rosa used stood out as the biggest adjustment he made since his last outing, when he gave up four runs on seven hits to the Orioles.

“To be aware to what hitters did to him in his last two starts, in Baltimore and Detroit, and to go out and trust his fastball more, that set the tone,” manager John Farrell said. “I think if anything he should have gained some additional trust in that pitch, it’€™s 93-98 [mph] and he’€™s got plenty to go to. Part of his learning curve is happening in front of our eyes.”

More often than not on Monday night, De La Rosa used his fastball as a set-up pitch for his changeup, which he used to generate ground balls as well as swings and misses while throwing it for a strike the majority of the time. Ten of the 17 balls put in play came off of breaking pitches, while five of his eight swinging strikes came off the changeup.

“Last couple of outings, I didn’t throw my fastball a lot because I feel confident with my changeup, so I threw my changeup a lot,” De La Rosa explained. “They told me to throw my fastball because I have a good fastball. Throw fastballs and then the changeup behind that, nobody can hit that. They’re not prepared for that. That’s different. This time I tried to throw more fastballs.

“They swing a lot on my fastball. I try to use two different kinds of changeups. I throw one for the strikeout and one for contact. When I go 0-2 or 2-2, I throw for the contact. I don’€™t want to strike out everybody.”

Eleven of the 17 balls put in play against De La Rosa were on the ground; for the most part, he was not hit particularly hard, save for a few long line outs to center field.

“Everything working down. I feel everything is good, 100 percent,” De La Rosa said.

De La Rosa has settled in quite nicely at Fenway Park, and in his two starts at home in 2014, De La Rosa has tossed 14 shutout innings, allowing just five hits. He became the first pitcher to put together scoreless outings in his first two starts at Fenway Park as a member of the Red Sox.

The righty says he “feels comfortable” on the Fenway mound and “feels like [he'€™s] home,” but Farrell suggests that De La Rosa can have success in any ballpark.

“Whether or not he feels the energy in this ballpark or he’€™s comfortable on our mound, which is clearly the case, when a guy possesses that kind of arm and that type of repertoire, as long as he throws strikes he has the ability to attack the best hitters in the game,”€ Farrell said.

With Felix Doubront and Clay Buchholz close to making their returns to the major league club, it’s possible that De La Rosa’s time in the Red Sox rotation might be running short; he appears a likely candidate to return to Triple-A, at least for the time being. But with a 2.84 ERA in his four major league starts this season, De La Rosa is at the very least creating a welcome crowd in the rotation that offers the Red Sox difference-making depth.

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