After spending six weeks on the injured list, a place that Carlos Rodon has become all too familiar with during his major league career, Rodon made his return out of the bullpen against the Cleveland Indians during a late September matchup with the White Sox in the midst of a race for the American League Central crown.
Rodon entered the game on September 24, 2020, and gave up a two-run double to Cesar Hernandez and then a two-run double to Jose Ramirez as the White Sox watched their lead evaporate late against Cleveland, their second loss in a row to the Indians. The White Sox would end up losing their lead over Minnesota in the division, and eek their way into the postseason as a Wild Card team.
Former White Sox skipper Rick Renteria said after the game that he was testing Rodon to see if he could depend on him in a similar situation in the playoffs.
“He’s been a starter; this is a situation that will present itself in the postseason. Do I want to find out then or do I want to find out now? It was intended to be a short stint,” Renteria said.
Rodon would get a crack in the playoffs and allow two runs on one hit, two walks, and an intentional walk and not record a single out before being pulled in favor of Matt Foster in Game 3 of the 2020 Wild Card Series against Oakland.
Those two outings signaled, for many, the end of Carlos Rodon on the Southside of Chicago. The White Sox fired Rick Renteria, and then non-tendered Rodon heading into his final year of arbitration eligibility.
But Rodon would return, inking a one-year, $3 million deal prior to Spring Training in late January.
At the time, Rodon was considered a depth signing, maybe a lock as a long reliever at best. The uncertainty of the plans for Michael Kopech, Rodon’s Cactus League success this spring, and the lack of success from Reynaldo Lopez earned the former third overall pick one last shot with the White Sox as the fifth and final starter in their rotation to open the 2021 season.
New White Sox pitching coach Ethan Katz said that he identified lower-body issues with the southpaw’s delivery, issues that he worked with Rodon on this spring.
“He’s starting to understand how his lower half is supposed to move more efficiently. And it’s just going to take time. When you’ve done something for a long time, it’s hard to get out of that, but over time, we hope we can tap into things that he hasn’t been able to do,” said Katz.
Katz thought that Rodon was throwing across his body due to quad-oriented delivery, an issue that seems to be remedied in the infancy of the 2021 season.
I’ve lost count of the number of disheartening headlines and stories that I’ve penned in regards to Carlos Rodon over the better part of the last half-decade. I remember being at his major league debut and seeing an outing that served as a microcosm of his career to date, when healthy — an immensely talented pitcher who just couldn’t string it all together.
That debut came against the Cleveland Indians on a blustery evening in April of 2015 out of the bullpen. What we thought might be his final regular-season appearance with the White Sox came out of the bullpen against Cleveland as well. Now, the greatest performance of his life also came against those Cleveland Indians on a blustery April evening at Guaranteed Rate Field nearly six years to the date of his major league debut in 2015.
Unlike April 21, 2015, and September 24, 2020, there was no doubt that No. 55 was in control of the Indians, and more importantly, himself on Wednesday night.
After tossing five scoreless innings in his first start of the season against Seattle last week, Rodon was literally unhittable against the Indians. The 28-year-old left-hander came into the game with his signature wipeout slider not quite up to snuff, lacking swing-and-miss stuff that has been his calling card. The old Carlos Rodon would have buckled under those circumstances in the past. This version of Carlos Rodon pivoted to his fastball and changeup and changed speeds and threw with pinpoint precision to power through the first few innings.
Rodon didn’t get his first strikeout of the evening until the top of the fourth when he rang up Jordan Luplow. By that part of the game, Rodon was getting a better feel for his slider, and in turn, was generating more swing-and-miss results. Rodon ended up striking out seven Cleveland hitters between the fourth and ninth innings, generating 19 whiffs. 75 of Rodons 114 pitches were called or swinging strikes, and Rodon leaned on his fastball for exactly 50 percent of the evening, touching as high as 98.8 mph and averaging 95 mph on a total of 57 fastballs.
This is a different Carlos Rodon than we’ve ever seen. This version of Rodon is the one the White Sox saw when they drafted him with the third pick in the 2014 MLB Draft. If Rodon, who has spent time on the injured list in four of his first six major league seasons, has put his injury-laden struggles in the rearview mirror, he’ll be a crucial part of what the White Sox hope to accomplish this season.
Either way, Rodon’s no-hit performance on Wednesday night was special. Special for a player who has battled his way back from being non-tendered just this past winter and labeled as a massive draft bust by many, who is now forever in the history books with Chicago and Major League Baseball.
“It feels good to finally sit here and tell you I dominated today,” Rodón said. “I did it.”
I couldn’t be any happier for Rodon this morning, and no matter what happens moving forward, no one can take that special night away from him.
Featured Photo: Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images