White Sox

Carlos Rodon finds groove in win over Orioles

Carlos Rodon finds groove in win over Orioles

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.

Reynaldo Lopez is changing his place in the White Sox rebuild: 'When I'm on the mound, I'm the best and I don't care about the rest'

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USA TODAY

Reynaldo Lopez is changing his place in the White Sox rebuild: 'When I'm on the mound, I'm the best and I don't care about the rest'

Rebuilds are full of surprises.

Fans can pencil in any names they want into their 2020 lineups, but there’s almost no one who’s going to have a 100-percent success rate when it comes to predicting exactly what the next contending White Sox team will look like.

Reynaldo Lopez carried plenty of hype when he was acquired from the Washington Nationals in the Adam Eaton deal prior following the 2016 season. He had a high prospect ranking before he was called up last summer. He hasn’t materialized out of nowhere.

But with names like Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen, Carlos Rodon and others to compete with for one of those coveted rotation spots of the future, was anyone going to use the term “ace” to describe Lopez?

Well, in this rebuilding season’s most pleasant surprise for the White Sox and their fans, that’s exactly what Lopez has been. He’s been hands down the team’s best starting pitcher, and he’s making the case that he shouldn’t be considered an ancillary piece in this rebuilding process but a featured one.

He might not be getting the attention that others are. But he’s doing the most with his opportunity of being at the big league level right now. In the end, as long as you’re getting batters out, who cares how much attention you get?

“It’s not about what people say or what they are talking about,” Lopez said through a translator. “It’s about the confidence I have in myself, and I have plenty of confidence in myself. For me, I’m the best. I’m not saying the other guys are not. I’m just saying that’s the confidence I have. When I’m on the mound, I’m the best and I don’t care about the rest.”

Sunday marked the best start of Lopez’s young career, so said the pitcher himself. He was terrific in shutting down the visiting Texas Rangers, holding them to just two hits over eight scoreless innings.

It was one heck of a bounce-back performance considering what happened last time out, when he was roughed up for six runs in just two innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The difference? His attitude, his focus, his intensity, his conviction.

“I just changed my attitude in the game,” Lopez said. “I was more positive today than I was in my last outing and that was one of my biggest differences.”

“I do think he came out a little bit more focused, to be honest,” manager Rick Renteria said. “The intensity level was a little higher today. I think he threw the first couple pitches 97, 98 miles an hour, where his last outing they were at 93, 94. There wasn’t a whole lot of commitment or conviction to his pitches (against the Pirates). I think, as we talked after the last outing, (pitching coach Don Cooper) spoke to him a little about making sure he brought that intensity that he has the ability to do, to bring it from Pitch 1 and he did today.”

Renteria liked it all, and he saw something different in his pitcher when he went out to talk to him with two outs in the eighth. Lopez issued a two-out walk, and Renteria considered lifting Lopez from the game.

Lopez made sure his manager wouldn’t pull the plug on this outing.

“I hid the baseball in my glove because I didn’t want to leave the game,” Lopez said. “I asked me, ‘How are you? Are you good?’ And I told him, ‘Yes, I’m good.’ Then he asked me again, ‘Do you think you are able to get him out?’ And I said yes, ‘This is my game, and I’m going to finish it.’”

What did Lopez do with his extra life? He finished it all right, blowing Shin-Soo Choo away with a 96-mile-an-hour fastball. Then he showed as much emotion as he’s ever shown on a major league field. He earned that celebration.

“When you see your manager come out and you’ve already gone through most of your game in terms of what you might think you have in number of pitches available to you, and you reiterate that you want to finish a particular batter because you want to get out of that inning, and you do it, it's an accomplishment,” Renteria said. “It's a big accomplishment. For him, pretty good hitter. He battled him and he was able to get out of that inning and complete a very, very strong eight-inning outing.”

It’s the kind of exclamation point on a dominant afternoon that could stir some big plans in White Sox fans always dreaming of the future. What Lopez has done this season has been a strong case for a spot in that future rotation and a spot at the front of it, at that. Following Sunday’s gem, Lopez owns a 2.98 ERA with at least six strikeouts in four of his nine starts.

There’s a lot of development and a lot of time left before the White Sox contention window opens. But Lopez pitching like this offers a glimpse into the crystal ball, a look at what could be for an organization that’s acquired so much talent over the last two years.

You might not have seen it coming like this, but the future arriving in the form of Lopez is a sign that brighter days are ahead on the South Side.

Carlos Rodon's first rehab start went well, White Sox set date for next one

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USA TODAY

Carlos Rodon's first rehab start went well, White Sox set date for next one

Carlos Rodon's return to the South Side is coming soon.

The top-five draft pick recovering from last fall's shoulder surgery made his first rehab start Saturday with Class A Kannapolis and threw well. Rodon allowed just one run on three hits in his five innings of work, striking out six and walking none.

The White Sox announced Sunday that Rodon's second rehab start will come Thursday with Triple-A Charlotte.

As for the exact date Rodon returns to the big league roster, it's unknown at this point. General manager Rick Hahn said that Rodon will make multiple rehab starts. One might look to the pitcher's recovery from a spring injury last year as a guide. Rodon made four rehab starts in June before debuting with the White Sox on June 28.

This recovery is different, of course. Rodon is eligible to come off the 60-day disabled list on May 28.