White Sox

Carlos Rodon hopes to improve upon 'frustrating' first half

Carlos Rodon hopes to improve upon 'frustrating' first half

Carlos Rodon has allowed three or fewer earned runs in 10 of 16 starts this season. He has allowed a maximum of two earned runs nine times in 2016.

Yet as he heads into the All-Star break, the young White Sox pitcher does so with a 2-7 record and a 4.50 ERA in 92 innings. He has pitched better than his numbers would indicate and yet, as he endures the final stage of his development, Rodon hasn’t seen the results. In short, it has been a trying first half for Rodon, who was selected third overall in the 2014 amateur draft.

“It hasn’t been what I wanted, that’s for sure,” Rodon said. “Frustrating, especially when you have a good team like this. You want to be able to win for them. You want to be a part of their winning. You got guys like (Chris) Sale and (Jose) Quintana shoving it ... and pitching well. It’s tough to sit there and watch your start when you’re not doing what you’re doing.”

Pitching coach Don Cooper isn’t surprised by what he has seen from Rodon this season.

While Rodon excelled down the stretch in his rookie season, Cooper knew he wasn’t a finished product and said so in spring training.

Rodon went 5-2 with a 1.81 ERA in his final eight starts of 2015. But as Cooper saw it, Rodon needed to do much more than simply cut down on his walks, and he’d do all of it at the major league level.

While Rodon has lowered his walk rate significantly — he’s averaging 3.13 per nine innings, down from 4.59 in 2015 — many of the other areas have surfaced and caused problems this season.

When he allowed five runs in Tuesday’s loss, Rodon fell behind 15 of the 29 batters he faced, which left the Yankees in hitter's counts. That has often been an issue for Rodon this season, and opponents are hitting .291 against him, up from .246 last season.

“We want them to put the ball in play,” Cooper said. “But we want to dictate how that ball is being put in play, and we can’t quite do that too much if (the count is) 2-0, 3-1.”

As they head to the break, Cooper’s current list of items for Rodon to improve is specific:

— He wants better fastball command from the southpaw.

— He wants him to continue to develop and use the changeup more often (Rodon has thrown it 5.6 percent of the time, down from 9.3) — “We’re not using it enough,” Cooper said. “But it’s a lot easier to use, too, if you’re ahead in the count and getting strikes.”

— Rodon needs to get better at holding runners on base, too.

— And Rodon’s plan of attack would be enhanced if he could drop his slider in for called strikes early in the count.

“There’s so many things that we’re addressing here because this is where he’s learning,” Cooper said.

While Rodon has pitched well in nearly two-thirds of his starts, he has also had four in which he has yielded six runs. On Tuesday, Rodon was so frustrated that he threw his glove to a fan in the stands rather than throw it in the garbage.

“(It) was kind of one of those days where his stuff was just a little bit flat and not as explosive as it has been over these past few starts,” catcher Alex Avila said. “But there will be days where he’s going to have that, and he has to figure out how to get through the game. That’s something that he’s still learning.”

The process has been trying at times for both the pitcher and his coach.

“He’s still young and learning,” Cooper said. “I have patience, but I have the same emotions he has. Last night he was frustrated, and so was I.”

The pair has a nice span ahead to work out some of the kinks and also to rest.

Rodon has one more side session before the team breaks for four days. But the earliest Rodon could pitch again would be 10 days after his previous start, and that’s only if the White Sox gave him the first turn out of the All-Star break.

Rodon doesn’t have any big plans for the break. He just wants to recharge and prepare for a potential second-half turnaround.

“I’m just gonna relax,” Rodon said. “Take a little break and come back.

“Come back after the All-Star break and think of it as a new season.”

Lucas Giolito relieved to be able to shed No. 1 pitching prospect label

Lucas Giolito relieved to be able to shed No. 1 pitching prospect label

GLENDALE, AZ — You don’t need a scale to see that Lucas Giolito lost some weight in the offseason. As he walks around Camelback Ranch, he just seems lighter. These pounds were shedded thanks to a certain label that has been detached from his name and his being.

“Lucas Giolito, number-one pitching prospect in baseball” is no more.

“Definitely. Big time relief. I carried that title for a while,” Giolito told NBC Sports Chicago. “It was kind of up and down. I was (ranked) 1 at one point. I dropped. I always paid attention to it a little bit moving through the minor leagues.”

Which for any young hurler is risky business. The “best pitching prospect” designation can mess with a pitcher’s psyche and derail a promising career. Giolito was walking a mental tightrope reading those rankings, but after making it back to the majors last season with the White Sox and succeeding, the moniker that seemed to follow him wherever he went has now vanished.

“Looking back on it, that stuff is pretty cool," Giolito said. "It can pump you up and make you feel good about yourself, but in the end the question is, what are you going to do at the big league level? Can you contribute to a team? I’m glad that I finally have the opportunity to do that and all that other stuff is in the rear view."

This wasn’t the case when the White Sox acquired Giolito from the Washington Nationals in the Adam Eaton trade in December 2016. When he arrived at spring training last year, he was carrying around tons of extra baggage in his brain that was weighing him down. Questions about his ability and makeup weren’t helping as he tried living up to such high expectations.

“Yeah, I’d say especially with the trade coming off 2016 where I didn’t perform well at all that year," Giolito said. "I got traded over to a new organization, I still have this label on me of being a top pitching prospect while I’m going to a new place, I’m trying to impress people but at the same time I had a lot of things off mechanically I was trying to fix. Mentally, I was not in the best place as far as pitching went. It definitely added some extra pressure that I didn’t deal with well for a while."

How bad was it for Giolito? Here are some of the thoughts that were scrambling his brain during spring training and beyond last season.

“I saw I wasn’t throwing as hard. I was like, ’Where did my velocity go?’ Oh, it’s my mechanics. My mechanics are bad. I need to fix those,” Giolito said. “Then I’m trying to make adjustments. Why can’t I make this adjustment? It compounds. It just builds and builds and builds and can weigh on you a ton. I was 22 turning 23 later in the year. I didn’t handle it very well. I put a lot of pressure on myself to fix all these different things about my performance, my pitching and trying to do it all in one go instead of just relaxing and remembering, ‘Hey, what am I here for? Why do I play the game?’”

Still, pitching coach Don Cooper wanted to see what he had in his young prospect. So last February, he scheduled him to make his White Sox debut against the Cubs in front of a packed house in Mesa.

“It was kind of like a challenge," Giolito said. "They fill the stadium over there. I’m like, ‘Alright here we go."

Giolito gave up one run, three hits, walked one and struck out two in two innings against the Cubs that day.

“I pitched OK," he said. "I think I gave up a home run to Addison Russell. At the same time, I remember that game like I was forcing things. I might have pitched okay, but I was forcing the ball over the plate instead of relaxing, trusting and letting it happen which is kind of my mantra now. I’m saying that all the time, just having confidence in yourself and letting it go.”

A conversation in midseason with Charlotte Knights pitching coach Steve McCatty, suggested by Cooper, helped turn Giolito’s season around. The lesson for Giolito: whatever you have on the day you take the mound is what you have. Don’t force what isn’t there.

Fortunately for Giolito he has extra pitches in his arsenal, so if the curveball isn’t working (which it rarely did when he came up to the majors last season) he can go to his change-up, fastball, slider, etc.

It’s all part of the learning process, both on the mound and off it. Setbacks are coming. Giolito has already had his share. More will be on the way.

“You want to set expectations for yourself. You want to try and achieve great goals,” he said. “At the same time, it is a game of failure. There’s so much that you have to learn through experience whether that be success or failure. Especially going through the minor leagues. There’s so much that you have to learn and a lot of it is about development. It’s a crazy ride for sure.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Rick Hahn gives an update on the state of the White Sox rebuild

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Rick Hahn gives an update on the state of the White Sox rebuild

In this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, Danny Parkins (670 The Score), Chris Bleck (ESPN 1000) and Scott King (WGN Radio) join David Kaplan on the panel.

Ryan Pace’s offseason begins. Josh Sitton and Jerrell Freeman are gone, but what will he do with Kyle Fuller?

Plus, Rick Hahn joins Kap from Glendale, Ariz., to discuss the state of the White Sox rebuild, how tough it is to keep their best prospects in the minors and why Jose Abreu is so important for his young team?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: