Nathan Eovaldi faced the ultimate heat check on Monday when Nick Madrigal stepped into the batter’s box.  

Through six-plus innings to that point, Eovaldi had all five of his pitches spinning, dancing and diving the way he wanted. He was one strikeout shy of matching his career-high (10), but Madrigal — owner of the league’s lowest strikeout rate — wasn’t going to make things easy.  

Eovaldi nibbled around the zone, eventually grooving a cutter that tipped off Madrigal’s bat and into the glove of Christian Vazquez for strike three. With that, Madrigal saw his league-best strikeout-less streak end at 48 plate appearances, and Eovaldi earned double-digit strikeouts for the fourth time. Pretty satisfying, no?  

“Any time you can win a battle and you get a guy who doesn’t punch out a lot, it’s good,” Eovaldi said. “But I’ve got to do a better job of finishing off that inning.”  

Eovaldi exited one batter later, finishing with a line of 6 1/3 innings, nine hits, four runs and, eventually, a win. It’s clear that striking out Madrigal meant far less to him than working as deep as possible into the game.  

But it’s also clear that Eovaldi is locked in right now and yielding very little to the opposition. He hasn’t walked any of his past 51 batters faced, nor has he allowed a home run in his past six starts.  

In his fourth season with the Red Sox, Eovaldi is making a strong case to be considered the ace of the rotation.  

“When we got this guy in ’18, this is what we envisioned,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “A guy that was attacking the zone.”

From 2018, Eovaldi will probably be most remembered for his emotional, six-plus-inning relief effort in Game 3 of the World Series. His 2019 campaign was far less memorable, as he posted a 5.99 ERA while battling an elbow injury and shifting in and out of the rotation.  

“I do believe that ’19 — it was unfair to him from our standpoint, and he was willing to try to do what he tried to do,” Cora said. “But going from being a starter, to a reliever, to a starter again, it’s a different mindset, right? And he never got on track.”  

Eovaldi returned to a full-time starting role in 2020, and he’s been on track ever since. In his past eight starts, the righty is 6-1 with a 2.01 ERA and 0.99 WHIP. He likes to fill the strike zone and stay on the attack with each batter — racking up strikeouts is just a perk that comes with his electric stuff.  

“If I’m not striking guys out, then hopefully, I’m getting quick outs, going deep into the ballgame,” Eovaldi said. “That’s been my main focus — make them earn their way onto the basepaths.”  

Sale returning to Florida to continue rehab  

When the Red Sox hit the road at the conclusion of their homestand on Sunday, so will Chris Sale. But while his teammates head to Queens, N.Y., for a series with the Mets, Sale is headed south — Fort Myers, Fla. — to continue his rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery.  

But as Sale’s workouts ramp up, he’ll need greater access to bullpen time and a stable of hitters to pitch to. Working from the team’s Spring Training complex will make that easier.  

Plus, Sale’s relocation allows him to be with his family. The 32-year-old was born in Lakeland and attended Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers.  

As for palpable updates on Sale’s progression, Cora only had this to offer: “He’s not on the mound yet, but he feels like everything is going the right way now. Now he feels like he’s a lot stronger, and the progression is going the right way.”