Carlos Rodon continues to check off rookie benchmarks as he wades deeper into major league waters.
The 22-year-old left-hander threw a career high 116 pitches over six shutout innings as the White Sox beat Houston, 4-2, in front of 18,439 Tuesday night at U.S. Cellular Field. Rodon allowed four hits, issued two walks and struck out five in his first scoreless outing as a major league starter.
With those six shutout innings, Rodon’s season ERA dropped to 2.86. After a rocky, walk-filled introduction to the starting rotation, Rodon has issued five walks against 19 strikeouts in his last 18 1/3 innings, in which he’s allowed four runs (two earned) on 17 hits.
Rodon’s drop in walks and string of success has come after having his turn in the rotation skipped in late May, affording him an opportunity to hit the reset button and return to the mound with a better mindset.
[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]
“Attacking the zone, man,” Rodon said of what he worked on during that nine-day hiatus. “First pitch strikes, let them hit it. Go at it early and make them swing the bat. That’s all you can do.”
Manager Robin Ventura speculated before Tuesday’s game Rodon’s recent improvement has been partially due to him settling into the routine of being a starter after moving from the bullpen to rotation in early May.
“I think part of it is when we put him in there of being able for him to have the ability to go out every five days and the repetition that goes with pitching has been better for him,” Ventura said before Tuesday’s game. “I think it’s more of a natural thing and the command stuff has gotten better.”
[MORE: Sox intrigued by Simeon grad Hickman]
The fourth inning on Tuesday brought around some trouble for Rodon, who loaded the bases on a single, hit batsman and walk with one out. But the No. 3 overall pick in 2014’s MLB Draft struck out Luis Valbuena and got Jake Marisnick to ground out to end the threat, though it took him 31 pitches to do so.
Rodon retired nine of the final 10 batters he faced after the fourth, which allowed him to stay in the game through the sixth.
“He has a competitor mentality,” catcher Tyler Flowers said. “We’re not giving in, we’re executing pitches. If we miss, we’re missing in good spots, go get the next guy. To bounce back after that, he did a good job of trusting his stuff.
“He wasn’t overthinking when he missed or if he left something up, he did a good job of moving to the next pitch which is the common characteristic of the very good pitchers at this level.”
[ALSO: Sale continues his staggering run of success]
As Rodon has settled into his newly-found groove, he’s grown a trust in his stuff Flowers said was key in helping him get out of a dangerous fourth inning. According to Brooks Baseball, Rodon only threw eight changeups in his first 22 1/3 innings in the majors, in which he had a 21/19 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In his last three starts and 18 1/3 innings, he’s thrown 22 changeups with that 19/5 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
While the changeup isn’t a go-to pitch just yet, he’s been able to work it in more by throwing his fastball and slider for strikes at a higher rate. His walks are down and his ERA is down as he's focused on getting ahead in the count and generating weak contact more than anything else.
But while the tangible details of his development are pointing in the right direction, his manager has observed the kind of mentality from Rodon that leads him to believe the young left-hander will continue to improve as the season wears on.
“He absorbs a lot,” Ventura said. “He has that bulldog mentality of just going out and gutting his way through it and just battling. I think that’s an impressive part of what we are learning about him, the way he goes about it and how much he cares and how much he puts on his own shoulders.
“… You hear a lot of things about people through draft stuff, just reports. But when you actually get to see this kid and be around him and see him on a daily basis and go out and do things like this, it’s pretty impressive what he’s capable of.”