Mookie Betts celebrates one of his three homers with catcher Christian Vazquez on Tuesday. (Tommy Gilligan/USA Today Sports)
BALTIMORE — Eduardo Rodriguez is back, but what really matters is Mookie Betts never left.
On a night when Rodriguez should’ve been the story, Betts stole the spotlight by blasting three homers for the first time in his career.
That gave Rodriguez all the offense he’d need in a 6-2 victory over the Orioles in his first start of the season, three months after suffering a spring training knee injury.
Rodriguez went six solid innings, allowing six hits and two runs. He struck out three and walked none, featuring a fastball that sat in the 91-93 mph range and a changeup that kept the Orioles off balance.
He got all the offense he’d need from Betts, who led off the game with his 10th homer of the year, and then followed with a three-run shot in the second and the first opposite-field blast of his career in the seventh.
All of that power gave Rodriguez some breathing room in his first start since last season. He entered the game with some concerns over the stability of his right knee, as well as his velocity. On the first count, he certainly looked comfortable while pitching with a brace on his right knee. On the latter count, he spent the first inning at 92 mph, the second at 93, and the rest in the low-90s. That’s down from the 94-95 he averaged last year, but he compensated by commanding his changeup.
He was helped not just by Betts’ blasts, but by some outstanding defense from fill-in center fielder Chris Young, who caught one ball against the fence before robbing Manny Machado of a two-run homer with a leaping catch reaching over the wall in the third.
The Red Sox got more good news in the seventh when Xander Bogaerts blooped a single to left to extend his hitting streak to 24 games.
The last Red Sox batters to lead off a game with back-to-back homers were Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia in on July 27, 2011 vs. the Royals.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
— The Red Sox removed Clay Buchholz from the rotation to give Rodriguez a shot at solidifying a spot, and he delivered solid results in his first outing. As he builds arm strength and his knee heals, the hope is that he’ll regain some of his lost velocity. It’s worth noting that after a solid start, Rodriguez allowed increasingly harder contact as the Orioles hitters locked in.
— Betts is now on pace for 37 homers after his three blasts, which moved him into a tie for ninth in the American League. He also added a diving catch to end the seventh.
— With Jackie Bradley Jr. out on paternity leave and unlikely to rejoin the team until this weekend’s homestand, Young made his presence felt defensively, robbing Machado of his 13th homer of the season and keeping Rodriguez’s lead intact.
— With his seventh homer in his 50th game, Pedroia matched his output in 135 games in 2014. He hit 12 homers last year.
— Bogaerts didn’t hit it hard, but in extending his hitting streak to 24, he moved within five of Bradley’s MLB-best 29-gamer, which ended last week.
WHAT WENT WRONG
— The Red Sox failed to KO Orioles starter Kevin Gausman, who allowed five runs in the first two innings and nearly got knocked out in the third before recovering to retire 10 of the final 11 batters he faced.