Where did Saturday night’s effort rank among this year’s outings for Carlos Rodon?
“Better. A lot better. What we’re looking for.”
That might be putting it mildly, as Rodon was terrific in the second game of a three-game weekend set with the Baltimore Orioles, holding the first-place team to just a pair of runs — only one earned — in his six innings of work.
Rodon didn’t get a decision, but it was his shutdown of the Baltimore bats that allowed his teammates to score a 4-2 win with a pair of runs in their final two trips to the plate.
Rodon wasn’t handed an easy start, as the game’s first two batters reached base when White Sox fielders had difficulties catching the ball, putting runners at first and third with nobody out in the first. But right then, Rodon showed he was a different pitcher from the one who allowed five runs in his first start back from a DL stint.
Rodon struck out the next three hitters he faced to end the inning and sat the next 10 down in order.
“It was very impressive for him to go out there,” manager Robin Ventura said. “We didn’t help him very much there in the first, but he reared back, had some velocity to it. His slider was great, it had a lot of break to it. This is probably one of his better ones with being able to go deep into the game and keep a very good lineup off balance.”
“Tough situation,” Rodon said, “had to get the guys out of it, try to get out of the inning, get the bats going.”
The White Sox bats did get going, if only just a little, spotting Rodon a two-run lead thanks to Melky Cabrera’s RBI double in the first and Tyler Saladino’s solo homer in the third.
But after those 10 straight outs, Rodon ran into a little trouble in the fourth, putting two runners on ahead of J.J. Hardy’s smash double to right-center field. Luckily for the White Sox, the ball hopped over the fence, the ground-rule double preventing one of the runners from scoring. Rodon retired the next batter and escaped with minimal damage.
The same was true of the sixth, when after Rodon loaded the bases with just one out, he coaxed a sacrifice fly off the bat of Hardy and struck out Nolan Reimold to end another threat with just one run of damage.
That one run tied the game, and Rodon exited after six unable to get a win. But his work in keeping the Orioles at bay was impressive.
“You see those guys step in the box. One through nine, any of those guys can hurt you,” Rodon said. “That was the mindset: ‘Can’t just leave it over the plate here, man, they’ll hit you out. Doesn’t matter who it is.’ So the whole time I had to go full bore at them, especially when it’s a close game like that.”
The White Sox rewarded their starting pitcher with a team win later in the game, scoring a go-ahead run on Omar Narvaez’s bloop base hit down the left-field line — which was initially ruled foul before video review overturned the call — and adding an insurance run on Adam Eaton’s solo homer in the eighth.
At night’s end, Rodon didn’t get a win, but his team did, mostly thanks to him. Rodon allowed two runs, just one earned run, on five hits and two walks, striking out seven in one of his best starts of the season. It was just the third time he allowed fewer than two earned runs in a start.
And he showed a little emotion, too, getting visibly pumped after he overpowered the Orioles in that first inning.
“He has it, he always has it,” Ventura said of that emotion. “Sometimes it’s directed at a water cooler, but he has it. He has great stuff. He has the fire and everything that’s in there. You’re just hoping that that gets directed toward home plate and he can throw strikes like that. But velocity-wise, he was up there tonight. He had some adrenaline going.”
The White Sox envisioned starts like this one when they made Rodon the No. 3 pick in the 2014 draft, and the left-hander is still considered one of the biggest pieces to the puzzle when it comes to the franchise’s future.
But Rodon doesn’t think about that when he’s on the mound.
“I just try to keep my mind of it, those kind of expectations,” Rodon said. “Just go out there and compete and play baseball like I was a little kid.”
Saturday night, that little kid was pretty darned good.