De La Rosa impressive under pressure

De La Rosa said that before Saturday's game, David Ortiz told him to ignore the events of Friday night and just "focus on pitching." AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

BOSTON -- Watching Friday night’s game from his hotel room, Red Sox starter Rubby De La Rosa saw the storyline for his start the next day take shape.

A benches-clearing skirmish? Three Red Sox hit by pitches while nobody on the Tampa Bay Rays was hit? Unprofessional, De La Rosa thought. Surely retaliation would have to come Saturday.

However, one of the 25-year-old’s teammates sought him out before Saturday’s game to make sure he didn’t feel responsible for enacting revenge.

“David [Ortiz] told me [to ignore] what happened last night,” De La Rosa said. “Focus on pitching and having fun outside.”

Most importantly, De La Rosa added, “It made me feel comfortable.”

Ortiz, the most vocal of all following the Red Sox and Rays' emotional affair Friday, notably declared that it would be war between the two teams after Rays ace David Price hit him with the first pitch he delivered to him that night.

But on Saturday night, in following Ortiz’s advice, De La Rosa ensured that the battle was one-sided.

De La Rosa fired seven scoreless innings in his first start as a Red Sox, allowing only four hits while striking out eight and giving up no walks as the Red Sox beat the Rays, 7-1. It was the first time ever that a pitcher recorded eight strikeouts while allowing no walks or runs in their first start at Fenway Park.

“That’s Rubby, when he’s on he’s one of the best pitchers we have,” outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. said. “The evidence tonight -- he pitched a very good game.”

De La Rosa himself said that he had everything working. His fastball sat in the high 90s throughout his outing, even reaching triple-digits on the Fenway scoreboard at one point during the third inning. He referred to his changeup as his best pitch on the night, recording six of his eight strikeouts with it. His slider was also effective, as he mixed it in often to keep the Rays hitters guessing.

“The biggest difference from a year ago to what we saw tonight was just an outstanding changeup,” manager John Farrell said. “A very good fastball, a lot of strikes, but the changeup was really the separator.”

Last year, De La Rosa struggled in his limited time in the majors, posting a 5.56 ERA out of the bullpen in 11 games for the Red Sox while often lacking command. On Saturday, De La Rosa looked strong, easily putting together the best start of his major league career.

“He threw three pitches for strikes at any time,” catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. “I’ve heard whispers about how good this kid could be and I saw little glimpses of it in spring training. To actually see him do it on this stage and in this situation, especially after last night and all that went down, was impressive.”

Farrell echoed Pierzynski while applauding the work he was able to do catching the young De La Rosa.

“I thought for the first time that A.J. caught him they worked very well together, Farrell said. “Given the environment, given what we went through last night, he was outstanding.”

Farrell admitted that the decision between De La Rosa and fellow Triple-A prospect Allen Webster leading up to Saturday was a difficult one to make. He said he relied primarily on advice from Pawtucket manager Kevin Boles and pitching coach Rich Sauveur in choosing De La Rosa.

The choice paid off for the Red Sox.

“Every pitch he threw and everything he was able to do, he looked like a big-league pitcher out there that’s been here for 10 years,” Pierzynski said.