BOSTON -- Rubby De La Rosa wasn't sharp, but he clawed through seven innings on good stuff and poise.
The 25-year-old has always had a standout pitch-mix. With a fastball that touches the high 90s, a curveball, a slider and an evolving changeup, it's a repertoire that would make any pitching coach salivate.
But the poise? His poise and his ability to give consistent starts has come into question in the past -- and it's persisted even as he's made a handful of dynamic outings while with the big-league club.
That's what made Saturday night's 2-1 win over the Royals an important one to his development. It was a Major League quality start -- seven innings, five hits, four walks, two strikeouts, one earned run -- turned in by a player who has spent parts of this season hovering back and forth between McCoy Stadium and Fenway Park.
In it he proved that if he can't find the plate at one point in the game -- he wasn't close to the strike zone when he started the game by walking Royals' leadoff hitter Jarrod Dyson on four pitches -- his command isn't necessarily lost for the duration of the night. He proved that if he allows runners to get on base, he has the ability to execute key pitches from the stretch undaunted. He proved that he can go to his off-speed stuff, particularly his changeup, which was devastating on Saturday, in fastball counts to win at-bats.
For the time being, it appears he's in Boston to stay. If veteran starter Jake Peavy is moved in a trade before the July 31 deadline, that would all but lock in De La Rosa's spot in the five-man rotation going forward.
"It's good for me," De La Rosa said of not bouncing back and forth between Pawtucket and Boston. "I feel they believe in me. And I believe in myself that I can do the job. That's important for me."
Early in the first inning on Saturday, he needed a bit of a reminder. After the walk to Dyson, Xander Bogaerts came to the mound to get De La Rosa to relax. One more pitch, a ball, against Omar Infante brought both Christian Vazquez and Dustin Pedroia to the mound for a chat.
Though De La Rosa still had to work out of jams -- in the second, fourth, fifth and sixth innings he stranded runners at second base -- he settled in well enough after that first-inning hiccup to limit the free-swinging Royals to one run in the third inning.
"He was at his best with men on base tonight," Sox manager John Farrell said. "[He] may have issued a couple of more walks than we've seen particularly here in Fenway, [where] he's been outstanding any time he's taken the mound here at home. Even in a couple situations where we gave an extra base runner, he shut it down and pitched with a lot of poise tonight once again."
Of De La Rosa's seven big-league starts this year, four of them have seen him go seven innings and give up one earned run or less. In four starts at Fenway, he's tossed 26.0 innings and allowed four earned runs for a 1.38 ERA.
"He obviously feels comfortable," Farrell said. "The environment and the energy that's created here in Fenway, seemingly he thrives on it and channels it clearly in the right way."
De La Rosa's a different pitcher than he was a year ago when he made 11 appearances out of the bullpen and at times seemed to have no grasp on where his fastball would be when it crossed the plate.
"Last year was a rehab year," Farrell said, referring to the Tommy John surgery De La Rosa underwent in August of 2011. "I think there was, from my view, it was almost a physical exercise that he was going out to throw this number of pitches in this outing. This year in comparison, he was going out to compete, to pitch, to earn his way back to the Major Leagues, and there's been a noticeable difference in the demeanor on the mound, and the way he's more consistently executed his pitches."
Not only has he earned his way back into the Major Leagues, but with every outing, it seems as though De La Rosa is earning the right to stick around.