ARLINGTON, Texas — Carlos Rodon has been around baseball enough to know his place.
Despite being the No. 3 overall draft pick in 2014 and a top-20 prospect, the 22-year-old joined the White Sox clubhouse with neither an oversized ego nor a lofty set of expectations. He’s just here to pitch on days he’s starting, and on days he’s not, he’s here to learn.
“He’s definitely gone about it the way you’d like to see it done,” catcher Tyler Flowers said. “Very quiet, always trying to learn something, listening, talking to (Chris) Sale a lot.”
Rodon turned in the best start of his nascent career Thursday night in Texas, firing six innings of one-run ball on five hits, three walks and 10 strikeouts. He plowed his way through the Rangers’ order and struck out the side twice, calmly firing 108 pitches, most of which were fastballs (62) and sliders (40).
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Sale’s slider was effective as he struck out 13 Wednesday night, and following his lead paid off. Rodon said he charted Sale's start and noticed how he pitched mega-prospect Joey Gallo, who struck out three times against Sale and twice against Rodon thanks to a healthy diet of sliders.
Of the 40 sliders Rodon threw, 30 were strikes, 25 were swung at and 14 were swung and missed at. With Texas having some runners on base — especially early — it quickly became his go-to out pitch.
“He showed a lot by having guys in scoring position and getting out of it, a couple strikeouts there to end some innings,” manager Robin Ventura said. “Impressive stuff coming from him.”
Walks have been a problem for Rodon since he joined the rotation, and while the three he issued Thursday look like a high total two came to plate discipline whiz Shin-Soo Choo and home plate umpire Dana DeMuth had a tight strike zone all night. Rodon didn’t issue a walk in his last start, too, and seems to be figuring out that his repertoire of pitches is good enough to get major league hitters out so long as he throws it over the plate.
“He’s got great stuff and (I) just tell him there’s no reason to walk guys,” starter Jeff Samardzija said. “He’s got too good of stuff to be letting guys on for free. I think he’ll understand (that) the more confidence he gets and as he gets to know the hitters and how to attack them. He definitely has all the makeup and everything and sometimes a little experience goes a long way.”
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Rodon only made major league start No. 5 Thursday night, and he’s only made 11 starts as a pro since signing with the White Sox last year. But he’s been put on this fast track by the White Sox partly because of his elite stuff — even with his changeup still under construction — but also largely due to the strong mental side of his game.
Ventura said Rodon’s past with Team USA baseball and pitching in the College World Series for North Carolina State probably helped him acclimate to the pressure of pitching in the majors. Samardzija, too, thinks Rodon’s baseball upbringing and his passion for the game have helped him get to the point where he’s done all the right things since being promoted to the majors in April.
“Sometimes guys just come up and they have a little sense for the game that other guys don’t,” Samardzija said. “Some guys get by on talent and some guys get by on their head and some have both.
“And he seems like a guy that has the talent and has the head on his shoulders to be successful in this game.”