After four inconsistent seasons, Boston left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez posted a 19-6 record in 2019 with 3.81 ERA and a league-leading 34 starts. Charles Krupa/Associated Press

VENICE, Fla. — It was early in spring training when Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi and Brandon Workman sent a message to Eduardo Rodriguez.

“Be the leader of the Latin guys,” Rodriguez said late last week. “That was something that as soon as we got to spring training, they told me, ‘We take care of the American guys, you take care of the Latin guys.’ That’s how it’s been since the beginning of spring training.”

Rodriguez grew up in Venezuela but moved to the Dominican Republic for summer ball as a 17-year-old. By the time he was 18, he was living in America and pitching for the Aberdeen Ironbirds, an Orioles’ affiliate in Maryland.

After almost a decade in the United States, Rodriguez, 26, has gone from the student to the teacher.

“The more you play, the more you learn,” he said. “I’ve been here with a lot of older guys. I’ve learned a lot from Rick Porcello, David Price, Clay Buchholz, Eovaldi, Sale. All those guys teach me the right way to be in the clubhouse, be on the field, everything. That’s what I’m trying to do now, help the young guys like Bryan Mata, those guys that start coming into the clubhouse.”

Mata, a 20-year-old prospect who is also from Venezuela, is one of the many young Latin pitchers the Sox will try to nurture with Rodriguez’s help. Another Venezuelan, 23-year-old Darwinzon Hernandez, is viewed as one of the key members of the pitching staff.

With Sale nursing an elbow injury, Rodriguez needs to step up.

“Everybody is asking the same question,” he said. “I’ve been telling them, ‘I don’t care if I go first or fifth in the rotation, I just want to go out there every five days. I want to make 34 starts.'”

He looked like an ace on Friday while facing the Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna, among others. His changeup was sharp, as always, as he struck out four and went four innings of work, allowing two runs on a defensive miscue and a solo homer.

Confidence isn’t an issue.

“With my changeup, even if I go two or three months without throwing a ball and I throw a changeup, it’s going to be the same,” Rodriguez said. “That’s a pitch that is always the same for me. It’s always there. I’m just working on my fastball, curveball and all that.”

Ozuna swung and missed so hard on one pitch he almost fell over. Albies looked out-matched on a different pitch.

Rodriguez credited a new curveball he’s learned from Workman, who he thinks has the best curveball on the team.

“Two swings and misses, that’s what I’m looking for,” he said.

For years, consistency is all the Red Sox wanted out of Rodriguez, who can throw 95 mph with one of the game’s best changeups when he’s healthy.

During Rodriguez’s first three years in the big leagues, the Red Sox went 34-31 when he started.

Since former manager Alex Cora arrived in 2018, the Sox have gone 45-12 in Rodriguez’s starts.

But interim manager Ron Roenicke said he knows how to fill in the gaps left by Cora’s absence.

“Alex has a good way of figuring out what a player needed, whether it was a push or a pat on the back,” Roenicke said. “Really, that’s what coaching and managing is, trying to figure out the personalities and what they need. Some guys don’t have to do that at all. But there are some guys throughout their whole career that have to be approached differently.”

Even though Cora has been the one in charge, Roenicke was paying close attention. He said he knows the players’ needs. And he doesn’t think motivation will be a problem.

“I think the mental part of it, I’ve seen growth (with Rodriguez),” Roenicke said. “Now he’s becoming a little bit of a leader with some of the Latin players, which we love to see.”

One year after going 19-6 with a 3.81 ERA, Rodriguez looks like the leader of the staff.

“He kind of pitched his way into a No. 1 last year,” Roenicke said. “So whether he’s the No. 1 on our staff or just the No. 1 — you get Chris back and you have two No. 1’s.

“I’m hoping the confidence he had last year and what he did, I don’t think there will be a lot of pressure on him to just say hey, ‘You’re the guy and you have to do it.’ I’m hoping that’s not the case. I know it won’t come from us.”

Asked what the word “ace” means to him, Rodriguez scoffed.

“I don’t care if they call me an ace,” he said. “The words, I don’t care about that. I just care to go out there every five days and do the best I can do. There’s been an ace here. A lot of people are calling me the ace right now because Sale is hurt, but I know when he comes back he’s still going to be the ace. He’s always going to be the ace.”

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