MLB: Boston Red Sox at Miami Marlins

Rafael Devers, third from left, celebrates with Alex Verdugo, second from left, Christian Arroyo, left, and Xander Bogaerts after hitting a three-run home run in Boston’s 5-3 win over the Miami Marlins on Thursday.

It was thought a 60-game season would benefit the injury-plagued Nathan Eovaldi, who missed most of 2019 with an elbow injury. As the de facto ace of the Red Sox in the wake of others leaving or getting hurt, it was a chance for the right-hander to make every start and lead a staff.

That didn’t happen, but Eovaldi seems intent on finishing this season strong.

Eovaldi missed three weeks with a calf issue before returning with three strong innings against the Rays last Saturday. He knew he would go longer Thursday against the Marlins, and he looked as good as he has all season in doing so, throwing five shutout innings, striking out seven and not allowing any walks on 76 pitches in the Red Sox’ 5-3 win, which ended their nine-game road trip on a high note with a 5-4 record.

Kevin Plawecki had the biggest hit of the day, a two-run single in the sixth, before Rafael Devers’ three-run homer in the seventh helped seal it. But the most important takeaway Thursday was Eovaldi, who looks strong and most importantly healthy as the season winds down.

“I feel like I’m kind of picking up where I left off. My arm feels really good, calf feels good,” Eovaldi said. “I feel like I’m attacking the zone a lot better these last couple outings. Throwing the ball in, mixing in all my pitches. ...

“Going into the offseason, it’s just going to be, main goal of course is staying healthy but enjoying the offseason and being ready to go for next year as well.”

Eovaldi looked dominant Thursday. He didn’t allow a hit until the fifth inning when he gave up a leadoff double to Garrett Cooper and then a single to Miguel Rojas, which put runners on the corners with no outs. But Eovaldi responded with strikeouts of Jazz Chisholm and Chad Wallach before inducing an inning-ending groundout to Corey Dickerson as Xander Bogaerts’ throw barely beat him at first.

Eovaldi was in control for most of the afternoon, with excellent command and pitch mix. His fastball was on fire, hitting 100 mph multiple times, including on a strikeout of Wallach in the third.

Despite missing about one-third of the season, Eovaldi has looked good this season. Outside of one bad start against the Yankees, when he gave up eight runs, the right-hander has continued to show glimpses of his full potential. When he’s on like he was Thursday, he can look unhittable.

“I feel like this has been one of my better seasons,” Eovaldi said. “My walks are down, I feel like I’m having a few more strikeouts than I normally do. I know I had that one bad start against the Yankees, but I feel like I’ve been able to go five, six innings out there every time. I’d like to go deeper. I know coming off the calf injury, I’ve had a limited pitch amount, they’ve been making sure I stay healthy and things like that.”

That’s always been the issue for Eovaldi, who always seems to miss time with an injury. It begs the question, as Jerry Remy made the case for on the NESN broadcast, if the Red Sox should risk having him pitch again this season.

With nine games left, Eovaldi will likely pitch at least one more time — next Wednesday against the Orioles. But given where the Red Sox are in the standings and his injury history, it may not be worth sending him out again as they look out for 2021 and beyond.

With some uncertainty at the top of the Red Sox rotation, as Chris Sale won’t be ready for Opening Day and questions on how Eduardo Rodriguez will look as he recovers from myocarditis, the Red Sox need Eovaldi to stay strong and healthy to start next season.

It doesn’t seem like that will happen. Eovaldi said he doesn’t think about getting hurt, which of course, is the right mindset, but the Red Sox know how important it is for Eovaldi to be fully healthy as he heads into the third year of his $68 million contract, and one of their most important pitchers.

“I know he wants to be out there and compete but we want to make sure he’s healthy to end the year and going into the offseason that everything’s working the right way,” Red Sox pitching coach Dave Bush said. “I’m glad to have him back. He’s a big part of our rotation. I like having him out on the mound, I like having him compete. I know he wants to be out there so I know this is important for him and for us to get him out there a couple of more times.”