White Sox

Carlos Rodon ready to make first MLB start Saturday

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Carlos Rodon ready to make first MLB start Saturday

For the first time in three weeks, Carlos Rodon knows exactly what he’ll do at first pitch when he arrives at the ballpark on Saturday afternoon.

Whereas the pitching prospect has begun to adapt to the every day uncertainty in the bullpen, not knowing if he’d be needed each game, the White Sox announced Rodon would make his first major league start against the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday. The announcement came shortly after news that Jeff Samardzija has dropped his appeal and began to serve his five-game suspension before Wednesday’s contest.

“I obviously have never started at this level, but at other levels, every five days you know what your day is and you know your routine,” Rodon said. “I’m back on it. It’s the same thing, the same routine I’ve done in Triple-A and college and high school, its just a little better hitters.”

Chris Sale is expected to follow Samardzija’s lead and drop his appeal on Thursday, which meant the White Sox needed a sixth starter this turn in the rotation. Rodon’s already stretched out, having thrown at least 60 pitches twice since he arrived on April 20 after making 87 in back-to-back minor league starts.

[MORE: White Sox designate Javy Guerra for assignment]

Rodon threw 63 pitches in Saturday’s loss after he relieved Hector Noesi.

“He still kept his pitch count up there,” manager Robin Ventura said. “As far as him going out there and what to expect out of him from the start, there’s really not a limit to him going out there. He’s going to be out there and making his start and we expect good things.”

Rodon has shown he’s capable of those expectations this spring. He dominated the Kansas City Royals for four innings in mid-March and pitched well against the Los Angeles Dodgers, too. He struck out 21 batters in 17 2/3 innings and posted a 3.06 ERA.

As for what Rodon can expect after his first start, the White Sox aren’t yet saying. There’s an expectation from the fan base that once Rodon, the No. 3 overall pick last June, moves into the rotation, he wouldn’t be removed. But, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn has said Rodon’s innings this season are a “scarce resource,” that they intend to monitor his workload.

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Rodon already has thrown 16 1/3 innings between the majors and minors. Saturday’s game is only the 27th for the White Sox, which means they have 27 turns of the rotation left this season. Were Rodon to stick and average six innings per start, he’d wind up with more than 180 innings pitched, which is likely higher than the White Sox hope to use him in the regular season.

Ventura said the White Sox would “figure it out” how to use the left-hander from here, but also added Rodon’s start is “a one-time thing” -- likely for now.

Rodon doesn’t want to look too far ahead as to how the White Sox may employ him. He’s just happy to know what he’ll do at 6:10 p.m. on Saturday.

“Honestly I have no idea,” Rodon said. “It’s just looking forward to Saturday and looking forward to that first hitter.”

White Sox Talk Podcast: Michael Kopech tells all about his past, present and future

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Michael Kopech tells all about his past, present and future

The White Sox top pitching prospect sits down with Chuck Garfien for a revealing interview at spring training. Kopech says he almost quit the game after he got into a fight with a Red Sox minor league teammate in 2016. He goes in-depth about his desire to be great, why meditating makes him a better pitcher, his failed PED test in 2015, comparisons to Justin Verlander, possibly becoming the future ace of the White Sox and much more.

Why Michael Kopech almost quit baseball: Revelations from the future White Sox star

Why Michael Kopech almost quit baseball: Revelations from the future White Sox star

GLENDALE, Ariz. — A failed PED test. A 50-game suspension. A fight with a former teammate. A broken pitching hand.

It all blew up like that for Michael Kopech in one calendar year.

And it was probably the best thing that ever happened to him.

“There have been points where I wanted to quit baseball. There have been points where I wanted to stop trying,” Kopech said Thursday in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Chicago.

This was the breaking point that almost ended Kopech’s career before it truly began but would eventually change his life for the better once the storms passed.

“Everything felt like it was on me at once, and it was tough because I had just gotten through the suspension, worked my butt off all offseason, came back to spring training in the best shape I had ever been in, and then broke my hand the first day of spring,” Kopech explained. “More than anything, I was frustrated and knew I wasn’t making anything better for myself and I was ready to get out of there.”

How long was he in this mode of possibly quitting baseball?

“Probably a couple weeks.”

The PED suspension in 2015 was for the stimulant Oxilofrine, which has been found in supplements which Kopech says he didn’t knowingly take.

“We do have certifications that we’re supposed to follow. We’re supposed to make sure that everything we take or put in our bodies is certified, and I probably wasn’t as safe as I should have been on that. I do take responsibility on that, and I regret it. But it’s part of the past and I did learn from it, so I can’t be too upset about it now and dwell on the past.”

The fight wasn’t only with Kopech’s teammate. It was also with his roommate.  

“It was a good friend of mine I was trying to help out. Things went south and he took a couple swings at me and I took one swing back. It just happened to not be a very good punch,” Kopech said. “I’ve accepted that I messed up. He accepted it as well. I’m open about it because it’s in the past and I’ve learned from it. But I’m not too proud to say I made a mistake. Fortunately, he’s still with the Red Sox and doing well over there. I think it didn’t alter our careers negatively, but maybe we both matured quite a bit from it and somehow, someway altered it positively. He’s still one of my good buddies.”

To say that Kopech’s dream is to make the major leagues would be limiting. He has a strong desire not only to be great but to be one of the all-time greats.

You can’t always pinpoint where a person’s ambition comes from. Kopech thinks it was from his torturous year as a nomad, out of baseball with a broken hand and a broken soul.

“Everybody talks about that itch to get back to spring training. When you have that for 12 straight months, it just grows and grows and grows,” Kopech said. “There’s going to be adversity coming your way in baseball. Learning from the adversity off the field is one of the tougher things I’ve ever had to do. Having all that come at once forced me to learn from it. I probably was a little stubborn and hard-headed at first, but taking a year off baseball, all you have time to do is think, anyway. I put myself in much better positions, became a lot more mindful about the game, and I feel like it has a lot to do with who I am today.”

Partly what changed him, and frankly might have saved him, was learning how to meditate. It’s a practice he learned from Red Sox mental performance coach Justin Su’a soon after the fateful fight with his teammate.

“It put me in a mental state that I never experienced. It’s almost like a flow state when I pitch but a lot calmer, so I got hooked on meditating and it took me away from the negativity of all that,” Kopech said. “I realized that my mind is my most powerful tool. I got addicted to this feeling that came from me being a more mindful athlete rather than just a powerful athlete or an athlete that throws 100 miles per hour. It took me away from being this guy that’s one dimensional to the outside public and made me have a lot more self value than Michael Kopech the baseball player.”

Kopech meditates before every start. Where exactly?

“For the most part, I’ll go find a closet or empty room somewhere in the stadium where I can zone out,” he said. “But even if it’s close to the clubhouse and I hear a little chatter that’s fine because the type of meditating I do focuses a little on background noise and helps my mind get to the place where I need it to get.”

It’s become such a powerful tool, he believes it gives him a distinct advantage over the hitter when he's on the mound.

“It’s tapping into this part of your mind that most people can’t dive into, and what’s funny is pitching is like cheating to me. When I pitch, the first batter I see with the stadium full of people, I’m in that state. Most people have to work their whole lives to feel that type of dopamine rush. Whatever it is actually, I don’t know exactly what it is, but I know the feeling and I get it instantly when I take the mound. For me, that’s why I love the game because it makes me feel alive.”

It's a purpose and passion that has been reborn. Living proof that Kopech's mind is maybe all that matters.