Carlos Rodon

Can Carlos Rodon be the ace of the White Sox rotation of the future? He sure looked like it against Cardinals

Can Carlos Rodon be the ace of the White Sox rotation of the future? He sure looked like it against Cardinals

The White Sox rotation of the future is a mighty crowded one. But if Carlos Rodon keeps pitching like he did Wednesday, he’ll definitely have a spot on that starting staff.

Heck, if he keeps pitching like he did Wednesday, he’ll be the ace of that staff.

Rodon had arguably his best outing in a White Sox uniform in a win over the visiting St. Louis Cardinals. He pitched 7.1 innings of shutout ball, allowing just three hits and two walks and striking out seven batters. He was objectively excellent, having the kind of performance that was hoped for when the White Sox pick him with the No. 3 selection in the 2014 draft.

It was also the kind of performance that reminded onlookers that Rodon is still very much in the mix to be one of the featured arms in that rotation of the future.

Rodon’s status as a pre-rebuild acquisition and the subsequent additions of Michael Kopech and Alec Hansen and Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning and Dylan Cease to this organization made it easy to forget about Rodon — all that plus his back-to-back lengthy stays on the disabled list to open the last two seasons. He carried those questions about his health into the 2018 campaign, and until he strings together a full season, they’ll linger.

And then there’s the questions about consistency, which follow every player who isn’t playing at an All-Star level. Rodon has shown flashes of brilliance in the past, and he’s struggled mightily at times, too. In order to achieve that “ace” status, he’ll need to make outings like Wednesday’s a more regular occurrence.

Rodon is in the process of trying to do just that.

“Some guys just show up and they’re just great. Sale, Kershaw, Scherzer, guys like that,” Rodon said. “Some other guys, it’s a grind. It’s going to be up and down. You’re going to have some good days, you’re going to have some bad days. You’re going to take some lumps, you’re going to give some lumps.

“You’ve got to learn through adversity. There’s going to be some tough outings. I’ve had numerous tough outings, you guys have watched them. I think a couple years ago I pitched against this (Cardinals) team, a little different, and I didn’t even get out of the first inning.

“There’s days like that, and there’s days like today where you’ve got all your stuff and it goes well.”

This season alone has seen Rodon searching for that consistency. In a start last month against the Oakland Athletics, he was terrific, with just two runs allowed over eight innings. The following start, he gave up five runs. Last time out against the Houston Astros, he only allowed two runs but also walked six guys. And then Wednesday he was darn-near unhittable.

Rodon is still a young pitcher, not to mention a guy who’s only made seven starts this season. But just like he’s done in the past, when the flashes of brilliance are there, he conjures mental images of what he could look like leading the rotation of the future when the White Sox shift from rebuilders to contenders.

“You can put him in a better-than-average class, a top tier, 1-2-3 pitcher, championship-type caliber competitor,” manager Rick Renteria said when asked what happens if Rodon pitches like this on a consistent basis. “It opens up the door to us potentially having quite a few guys in the rotation here in the near future that are able to give you what you need in order to be able to compete.”

Whether or not Rodon can develop into an ace is good food for thought in the dog days of this rebuilding effort. But one of Rodon’s teammates thinks he’s already there.

“He is already an ace,” catcher Omar Narvaez said. “Every time he comes down, he is an ace.”

Carlos Rodon's first win in 10 months showed he could still be the ace of the future for White Sox

rodon2624.jpg
USA TODAY

Carlos Rodon's first win in 10 months showed he could still be the ace of the future for White Sox

As encouraging as the reports are on many of the White Sox’s minor-league pitching prospects, Carlos Rodon’s effort against the Athletics on Sunday at Guaranteed Rate Field could prove just as significant to the rebuild on the South Side.

Looking much like the ace the Sox envisioned prior to Rodon’s rough 2017 season that ended with shoulder surgery, the left-hander put together his most successful effort of ’18 during a 10-3 drubbing of the Athletics before a sun-drenched crowd of 21,908.

Making his fourth start of the season, Rodon matched a career-high by going eight innings. He yielded two runs on seven hits with no walks and three strikeouts. Rodon earned his first win of the season to help the Sox salvage a split of the four-game series.

“I felt good today—a lot of strikes,” Rodon said. “It was good to go eight and just be ahead of guys.”

Helping matters for Rodon was an offensive explosion by the Sox, led by Yoan Moncada’s career-high six RBIs. After falling behind 2-0, the Sox plated five runs in each of the fifth and sixth innings as Moncada cleared the bases with a double off the base of the wall in the fifth and launched his 10th home run of the season to drive in three more an inning later.

“Today was a great day,” Moncada said via a team interpreter. “I just went out to play the game the way that I play. Just to have fun. It was a very good game for me.”

Daniel Palka and Yolmer Sanchez also homered as the Sox won for just the second time in their last 11 games.

Rodon was the happy recipient of the run support to win his first game since Aug. 21, 2017, against the Twins. On Sunday, he threw 99 pitches, 69 for strikes and was consistently in the mid-90s with his fastball.

“I’m looking to do that every time out,” Rodon said. “Just show up and establish the strike zone with the fastball and be aggressive.”

The 25-year-old’s second-inning strikeout of Khris Davis was the 400th of Rodon’s career. It is a career that is continuing after a surgery that was a setback, but one that did not derail Rodon’s confidence that he would again pitch effectively.

“There are up-and-down days when you go through shoulder surgery or any surgery for any player,” Rodon said. “You've just got to work through it and try to make your way back. I'm here now and it’s looking up and I’m trying to get better.”

So is it reasonable to view Rodon as the future ace after all?

“You certainly can’t discount that,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He has to go out there and continue to get his feet underneath him and get through the rest of the season healthy and climbing.”

In other Sox pitching news, Renteria said starter Dylan Covey, who was removed in the fifth inning of Saturday’s game due to a hip flexor injury, “felt better” Sunday and the team will continue to monitor the right-hander’s progress.

Meanwhile, veteran Miguel Gonzalez made a rehab start for Triple-A Charlotte as he continues to recover from inflammation in his right rotator cuff. Gonzalez went three innings and allowed one hit with a walk and a strikeout. Outfielder Eloy Jimenez belted his first homer for the Knights in the game.

It's still very early for Carlos Rodon: 'It's kind of like a little bit of spring training'

0614-carlos-rodon.jpg
USA TODAY

It's still very early for Carlos Rodon: 'It's kind of like a little bit of spring training'

Carlos Rodon’s second start of the 2018 season lasted just as long as his first.

After throwing 97 pitches in five innings against the Boston Red Sox last weekend, Rodon threw 100 pitches in five innings against the Cleveland Indians on Thursday. Things didn’t go so hot this time around, though he only gave up two hits. Problem is he put five guys on base in other ways, walking three batters and hitting two others. Oh, and one of those hits was a home run.

He didn’t get shelled, but he acted a little like it after the game, not at all happy with his performance.

“Need to be more consistent,” Rodon said. “Falling behind, putting myself in bad situations. Got to go deeper in the game for the team. Not my best.”

Rodon shouldn’t be expected to arrive from months of recovery from shoulder surgery as a flame-throwing ace. This was just his second big league start since last fall. But he didn’t live up to his own expectations, and struggling with command and issuing walks, hitting batters, have been big problems for other White Sox starting pitchers this season. Lucas Giolito is still battling command issues on a start-by-start basis.

As those issues have subsided rotation-wide and starters have lasted longer in their outings, the White Sox have won more games. There’s no secret there: When the pitchers pitch well, the team fares better.

While he only gave up two runs Thursday, Rodon left to watch the bullpen give up three more.

“He came into the dugout after we told him he was done for the day. He was like, ‘I’ve got to be better,’” manager Rick Renteria said. “It’s not as efficient, obviously, as we need him to be.

“But for all intents and purposes, it’s probably his sixth game or seventh game. Not to make any excuses for him, but it’s kind of like a little bit of spring training. He’s trying to get himself into some rhythm.

“Hopefully the next one will be better, he’ll be able to go deeper, a little more efficient. He’s got good stuff, so that’s good. I think he got up to 95 or 96 (mph) today on some fastballs. Continues to work and we’ll see if he can clean it up.”

The “it’s still kind of spring training for him” explanation didn’t fly with Rodon.

“I don’t want to make that excuse,” he said. “When you show up at this level, it’s time to compete.”

Whatever your opinion on that matter, what is inarguable is that Rodon is just two starts into his 2018 season. The expectations are high, as are the stakes, with Rodon one of many young arms competing for spots in the White Sox rotation of the future.

But he’s got plenty of time this season and beyond to make his case.