Starting pitcher Carlos Rodón has been under a microscope for the past couple weeks, as the White Sox, their fans, and presumably the Astros, try to gauge playoff availability.
Rodón’s bullpen session Tuesday, when the White Sox stage a closed workout at Guaranteed Rate Filed, is the final hurtle before the South Siders set their roster for the American League Division Series.
So, what’s the most important thing to measure from that session?
“How he feels,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said in a Zoom media conference on Monday. “Strength, how he feels, how the ball is getting out of his hand, can he manipulate his pitches, does he feel he’s able to potentially go five, six innings, give us X number of pitches in a game.
“It’s about taking the time following the previous outing to put us in a position of strength and building off of that. And putting us in position to succeed when his name is called in the next round.”
The White Sox were hesitant to read into Rodón’s last outing, in which he dominated the Reds, allowing one hit in five shutout innings. He did so without the velocity he had at the beginning of the season, as he continues to battle shoulder soreness and fatigue, topping out at 93 mph last week.
“His velocity wasn't what it has been, but he pitched,” White Sox manager La Russa said. “He got pitches to both sides of the plate, slider was good, threw some changeups. So that's the issue: stamina and strength. Is he going to have as much as he had, more than he had, less than he had? (We'll) take a look Tuesday."
While La Russa called Rodón “the great unknown,” Hahn sounded more hopeful on Monday.
“We remain optimistic that he's going to be able to contribute over the course of the next month,” Hahn said.
He declined to speculate, however, whether Rodón could pitch twice in a playoff series, assuming he does make his first start.
“We'll take it one series at a time,” Hahn said. “For the DS, he'd only throw once. So, let's see how exactly we get through the next 3-5 games, and then we'll hopefully come up with a plan for the ALCS.”
Rodón (13-5, 2.37 ERA) threw 132 innings this season, after pitching just shy of eight innings last year and about 35 in 2019 due to injury. So, some degree of physical fatigue was predictable. That’s why the White Sox built in extra rest between Rodón’s starts throughout the season.
“What shouldn't be lost in all of this is that we're sitting here today as division champs thanks in large part to Carlos' contribution over the course of the last six months,” Hahn said. “He, along with our training staff and coaches, I think deserve a world of credit for putting him in a position to succeed and demonstrate to the world what he's capable of doing when he's fully healthy.
“Obviously, down the stretch here we had to be cognizant of the workload and how Carlos was feeling and adjusted. But we came up with a program that was able to get him through the final few starts and one that we are optimistic puts him in a good position to help us this coming month as well.”
As for Rodón’s take on all this, he seems to have grown tired of questions about his health. When asked last week if he was concerned about his velocity, he turned the question back on the reporter.
“I mean, I’m not too concerned,” Rodón said. “I went out there and got 15 outs. Gave up 1 hit. So, are you concerned?”
The White Sox will have to answer that question when they set their roster ahead of the ALDS opener at Houston on Thursday.