Carlos Rodon became the first pitcher in major league history to strike out 11 batters in a start that lasted only four innings in the White Sox 7-2 loss to the Cubs Tuesday at Wrigley Field. That’s the good part of the story of Rodon’s afternoon.
The bad part of Rodon’s fifth start of the year: The Cubs put six balls in play, but only one went for an out. Willson Contreras launched a three-run home run in the first inning and Rodon issued three walks — including one to pitcher John Lackey — while allowing four runs. Rodon needed 98 pitches to get through four innings as he oscillated between being dominant and hittable.
“As you see, the command is not there,” Rodon said. “Very inconsistent. Have to find the consistency again, find the strike zone, find the strike zone.”
Perhaps the promising — or maddening, depending on how you look at it — part of Rodon’s start was that he was unhittable at times. Even with a generous strike zone (that led to Kris Bryant’s first career ejection), Rodon’s 11 strikeouts tied a career high.
“It feels good,” Rodon said. “It’s coming out good. The stuff is there. I’ve punched out 11 before, but you’d think, try to (get) 11 through seven.”
It wasn’t as if the Cubs necessarily sat back and made Rodon come to them, though. The Cubs took 12 of Rodon’s 22 first pitches (eight balls, four strikes), swung at nine (six foul balls, three whiffs) and bunted at one (which went foul). That the Cubs didn’t have a hit on any of those first pitches speaks to Rodon’s stuff, though they were still squaring him up later in at-bats.
But that stuff hasn’t led to efficiency. Through five starts, Rodon is averaging 4.24 pitches per batter, a higher average than he had in 2016 (3.90) and 2015 (4.02) and higher than 2017’s league average (3.88).
“… It could be mental,” Rodon said. “Who knows. It’s something we have to figure out.”
Rodon pointed to his final two innings as being encouraging — he threw 39 total pitches in them and didn’t allow a run — and said he felt like he was in a better rhythm in the second half of his start. But he recognizes he has to find that rhythm sooner.
“I would trade those 11 strikeouts in for six or seven innings just to not tax the bullpen to go out there and go that long,” Rodon said.
One of the ancillary positives to Rodon’s frustration, though, was the line drive double he ripped off John Lackey in the second inning, which brought in the only two runs the White Sox scored on Tuesday. Rodon — who was an accomplished hitter in high school — gapped his double with an exit velocity of 104 miles per hour, just one mile per hour slower than the exit velocity of Willson Contreras’ first inning home run.
“It’s nice, it gives us a couple of runs,” Rodon said. “Once again, my job is to pitch and not hit. It so happened I got a hit, but four innings is not going to cut it.”