Carlos Rodon isn’t about to make it easy for the White Sox to send him back to the bullpen.
One of baseball’s top pitching prospects overcame a rough first inning on Saturday night and eventually rolled in his first major league start, powering his way through six frames.
A temporary replacement, Rodon struck out eight and earned his first victory as the White Sox salvaged a split of a doubleheader with an 8-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds in front of 27,980 at U.S. Cellular Field. Alexei Ramirez, Avisail Garcia and Gordon Beckham all homered for the White Sox, who lost the opening game of the doubleheader 10-4.
“(Rodon) started out a little shaky,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “He has some poise. He stayed with it. I thought even knowing how the first game went and knowing he has to eat up some innings, it was a big spot and he came through. … “Even after giving up the two runs, he still battled and got through it. That was a big spot for us, for him to come through right there.”
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A standout in spring training, Rodon only made the start because the White Sox needed an extra starter with Jeff Samardzija and Chris Sale both out serving five-game suspensions. Rodon, who was selected third overall in last June’s draft and earned a franchise-record $6.582-million signing bonus, has pitched in relief since he was promoted to the majors on April 20.
The White Sox view Rodon’s innings this season as a “scarce resource,” according to general manager Rick Hahn. They likely want to limit Rodon’s workload to between 150-160 innings so they can preserve him for the long haul. Earlier this week, Ventura suggested Rodon’s start would be a one-time thing, that his future plans are undecided.
But Rodon could have put a wrench in the team’s designs with Saturday’s effort, though Ventura didn’t say what the White Sox might do.
Though he hadn’t thrown more than 63 pitches since an April 19 start for Triple-A Charlotte, Rodon got stronger the deeper he went into Saturday’s outing.
Rodon’s 99th pitch was a 99-mph strike to Todd Frazier, who proceeded to whiff on an 89-mph slider in the dirt. Working with a steady diet of fastballs and sliders (only two of his 108 pitches were changeups), all eight of Rodon’s strikeouts came via swings.
“I was excited to see him pitch,” Cincinnati manager Bryan Price said. “Heard a lot about him. … Lot of velocity and a real good slider. As he gets more and more comfortable at this level, I imagine he’s going to be a real challenge for teams to have to face. He’s got really good stuff.”
Rodon had Cincinnati hitters mostly overpowered for the final three innings. He retired eight straight after surrendering a game-tying, two-run, opposite-field single to Joey Votto in the third inning.
Rodon didn’t start as well as he finished.
He may have been squeezed in a first-inning at-bat against Marlon Byrd but nonetheless walked the first two batters he faced. But with the aid of veteran catcher Geovany Soto, who made several trips to the mound over the first few innings, Rodon got out of that jam, striking out Votto and getting Todd Frazier to pop into a double play as Byrd was off on the pitch and easily thrown out. Rodon said Soto mostly tried to relax the rookie and assured him he was in the majors for a reason.
Rodon looked more comfortable in the second inning before he gave up consecutive singles to Zack Cosart and Billy Hamilton in the third and walked Byrd to load the bases. Votto then ripped a 96-mph fastball just inside the left-field line to tie the score at 2. But Rodon struck out Frazier and got Brandon Phillips to ground out.
Rodon --- who allowed two earned runs and four hits with four walks -- continues to be open to whatever the White Sox have planned for him, though he knows he’s a starting pitcher in the long run.
“I’ve always been a starter and I think Robin and (Don Cooper), they understand that I am a starter, it’s just a transition,” Rodon said. “We’re just transitioning into it and like I said, like Robin said, like everyone said, ‘This game is about the next day or tomorrow.’ You’re preparing for tomorrow after today and winning tomorrow.”
The White Sox would surely win more often if their offense performs as it did on Saturday.
Ramirez hit his second home run in as many games, a two-run shot in the second, to put the White Sox up by two runs.
Beckham’s fourth-inning RBI single regained the lead for the White Sox, who broke it open against Jason Marquis in the sixth inning on Garcia and Beckham solo homers.
The White Sox, who finished with 14 hits, got run-scoring singles from Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche in the seventh inning and Beckham had a sac fly. Beckham went 2-for-3 with three RBIs.
The White Sox improved to 10-2 this season when they score at least four runs. They’re also 1-0 when Rodon starts. But when his next one comes isn’t yet certain.
“He's on the team, yeah,” Ventura said when asked about Rodon’s future. “He stays on the team.
“We're trying to just get through today and then we'll get through tomorrow. Yeah. He's going to stay on the team. Guarantee it.”