NEW YORK — His command was wobbly against the second-best offense in the majors as Carlos Rodon pitched for the first time at Yankee Stadium.
In spite of all of those challenges, the rookie continued an outstanding sprint to the finish on Friday night, leading the White Sox to a 5-2 victory over the New York Yankees. Even though he put 12 runners on base, Rodon only allowed two runs in six innings to win his third straight — and final — start of 2015. Mike Olt and Gordon Beckham homered off C.C. Sabathia in support of Rodon, who posted a 1.81 ERA over his last eight starts.
“He didn’t have his best control, but he learned how to get through it with a professional lineup,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “You have to be able to weasel your way out of some tough situations, and he did it. It wasn’t the prettiest he’s had. But you’re looking at a lineup that is a little bit older and has some savvy, and I thought he really bowed his neck and looked great.”
Nothing about Friday’s start — one Ventura confirmed would be the lefty’s last this season — was easy for Rodon aside from his first inning of work. He struck out two in the opening frame and retired Alex Rodriguez on a fly out to deep center.
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The Yankees — who on July 31 knocked Rodon out after three innings and eight runs — proceeded to make him work overtime the rest of the way. He hit a batter and walked one in both the second and third innings.
The fourth inning provided Rodon’s biggest test as he allowed a pair of tough-luck singles before Trayce Thompson made a fantastic catch in right for the first out. Rodon walked Rob Refsnyder to load the bases, and No. 9 hitter Didi Gregorious tied the game with a two-run single. Brett Gardner then singled to reload the bases, but Rodon induced an inning-ending double play off Chase Headley’s bat.
Rodon worked around a walk and a wild pitch in the fifth inning to preserve a 2-all tie. Then in the sixth, Refsnyder doubled and Gregorious walked with one out only to have Gardner hit into an inning-ending double play.
“It was definitely a little off,” Rodon said. “I was trying to get ahead. I was trying to pound the zone and make them swing the bat. It wasn’t happening like times before.
“Luckily, defensively we had guys behind me making plays.”
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Rodon gave up five hits, walked five, hit two and struck out four in six innings.
Since Aug. 5, Rodon allowed 38 hits, 13 runs (11 earned), walked 21 and struck out 49 in 54 2/3 innings. In the same span, Rodon lowered his earned-run average from 5.00 to 3.75.
“He’s come a long way since the start,” said closer David Robertson, who converted his 32nd save with a scoreless ninth inning. “I think he’s realizing now he doesn’t have to throw full speed all the time to get guys out in the big leagues, and I hope he continues on that path because he’s something special, this guy. He’s got exceptional stuff, and I think in the years coming he’s going to prove himself as one of the aces in this league.”
Rodon said he’s happy with the way he developed this season and feels much more comfortable in the clubhouse. One critical element in his ascent has been a reduced walk rate. After he walked 50 batters in his first 84 2/3 innings, Rodon only walked 21 in the last 54 2/3.
“There’s room to get better,” Rodon said. “You have an idea about what you have to do. I’ve been through it once here, so hopefully I feel more comfortable next year.”
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Ventura would agree with Rodon’s self-evaluation and is pleased with how his young charge handled himself. From a much-ballyhooed pitching prospect in spring, Ventura thinks Rodon has developed into just one of the guys as he has worked to prove himself over and over this season. The fourth-year manager is really impressed with how Rodon fared given he faced the Yankees, Los Angeles Angels, Seattle Mariners and Cleveland Indians each two times in his final 10 starts.
“You’re impressed with what he’s done since he's been up here,” Ventura said. “He has learned a lot. He had a lot of things you would like to see him get in his first year in the big leagues. Finishing it off here against a team like this is something you want to see him do, especially after seeing him the first time, and it didn’t go so well.”