When the Boston Red Sox acquired Nathan Eovaldi from the Tampa Bay Rays prior to last month’s trade deadline, they brought on board a righty who no longer relies almost exclusively on velocity. Eovaldi still throws heat — his four-seamer averages a tick over 97 mph and approaches 100 — but another pitch has become every bit as important to his arsenal. The 28-year-old flamethrower is relying heavily on a cutter, and it didn’t come out of nowhere. He essentially took it out of his back pocket.
The fact that he’s thrown a cut fastball over 30% of the time this season is less surprising if you know the story behind it. Eovaldi, who goes into tonight’s start against the Baltimore Orioles with a 3.38 ERA and an 18-inning scoreless streak, shared that story prior to a recent game.
Nathan Eovaldi: “The first time I actually started throwing a cutter was in 2012, when I was with the Dodgers. I was getting hit around a lot, and it became one of those times where you’re like, ‘Alright, let’s try messing around with a couple different pitches.’ My pitching coach, Rick Honeycutt, suggested a cut fastball. He showed me the grip, I threw it, and it cut.
“Pitches that are similar to my fastball — I don’t have to do a lot to them — are just a little easier for me to throw. I have confidence with my cutter. I’m throwing it hard, so even if I miss, it’s still going to be like a hard fastball. Do you know what I mean? My velocity kicks in. Right now there’s about four or five mph [of separation] from my four-seamer, so it’s still a hard enough pitch. It’s not like if I throw a changeup and it’s 86-88, hovering up there like a BP fastball.
“For whatever reason, when I got traded [to Miami, in July 2012] I kind of stopped throwing it. It’s always different when you move to another organization. Pitching coaches have their idea of what’s going to make you better and which pitches you really need to focus on. When I went to the Marlins, it was, ‘Focus on that slider.’ It was also, ‘Try to get a changeup.’ That’s what led to my split. My pitching coach in 2014, Chuck Hernandez, suggested throwing one. At the time he was calling it a ‘fosh,’ because he didn’t want to get the whole split-finger thing stuck in my head. But it is what it is, and when I got traded to the Yankees [in December 2014], they really liked the split. My pitching coach there, Larry Rothschild, wanted to focus on that, too, so that’s what we did.
“When I was with the Yankees, it was kind of the same scenario as before: I started getting hit around a lot. This was in 2016. Larry suggested I start throwing the cutter again. My last three outings before I got hurt (and missed the 2017 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery), it was a good pitch for me. I was throwing it probably as much as my fastball. The success was there, so this time I didn’t forget about it.
“I’m obviously throwing a lot of cutters now. I think there are a few reasons for that. I’ve improved the quality of the pitch. The confidence has improved with the pitch. I also feel that I haven’t given up many hits on the pitch, and the ones that have, have been middle. I haven’t thrown good ones that have gotten hit. It’s been effective in to lefties, back-door to lefties, and away to righties. It’s been a good pitch to keep the hitters off my fastball.
“One reason my cutter has gotten better is [Tampa Bay pitching coach] Kyle Snyder. We went over a couple different grips. It’s a pitch he has a lot of knowledge on. He’d thrown one when he pitched, and he suggested the way he held his. It was different from the way I had been throwing mine, but it felt good and I found that I get consistent cut with it. It’s been working out well for me.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.