Carlos Rodón’s last pitch Tuesday ripped through the air at 97 mph, begging the question: Where did that come from?
Hours later, as the White Sox trickled out of the dugout after a 10-1 loss to the Astros, a different question emerged: Could that have been Rodón’s last pitch in a White Sox uniform?
“I thought he did exactly what he did all year,” White Sox manager Tony La Russa said Tuesday, after his team’s playoff elimination in Game 4 of the ALDS. “He gave us everything he had.”
Rodón is set to enter free agency this offseason, leaving his future with the White Sox uncertain. Maybe he’ll stay. After all, Rodón told NBC Sports Chicago’s Gordon Wittenmyer earlier this season that his “heart lies on the South Side.” Or maybe he and the team that selected him No. 3 overall in the 2014 MLB Draft will part ways.
With decisions looming for both Rodón and the White Sox organization – in a CBA negotiation year, no less – the southpaw said he soaked in the atmosphere at Guaranteed Rate Field after striking out Alex Bregman and Yordan Álvarez to end the first inning.
“It was definitely a special moment,” Rodón said after a pause. “It's been an interesting road for me, and just to have the opportunity to pitch an important game, it meant a lot. So, thank you, White Sox fans. And thank you to the organization.”
Over the course of that first inning, Rodón’s fastball velocity jumped from just under 93 mph on his first pitch – about where it’d been sitting late in the season as Rodón battled shoulder soreness and fatigue – to over 99 mph.
With his four-seam fastball zipping in at the top of the zone, Rodón was the first White Sox starter to retire Álvarez the first time through the order. The other three starting pitchers all walked the Astros cleanup hitter. Then, Rodón became the first in the series to hold the Houston scoreless through the second inning.
“That guy is one of the best pitchers that I've seen in years, especially left-handed pitchers,” said Astros manager Dusty Baker, who in the regular season watched Rodón hold Houston to one run in 14 innings. “You don't find left-handed pitchers that throw with the velocity that he has, and that's what velocity does. It makes you commit early, makes you swing at bad balls out of the zone because you've got to start your swing early.”
Rodón, however, was limited to 11 outings in 2018-19 due to injury. He just went through an offseason of uncertainty, after the White Sox non-tendered him last December. He responded with a breakout 2021 season (13-5, 2.37 ERA), including a no-hitter in his second start.
The All-Star threw over 130 innings for the first time since 2016. But with the jump in workload, even as the White Sox carefully monitored it, came late-season fatigue.
“The one thing that I was wondering about was his sustainability,” Baker said of Rodón’s start Tuesday. “How long could he sustain that velocity and that pace?”
Rodón’s pitch count began to climb in the third inning. He hit Astros second baseman Jose Altuve in the elbow guard. And then, with two outs, Rodón issued back-to-back walks to load the bases. Astros shortstop Carlos Correa stepped up to the plate
“I thought his fastball was really good and very hoppy,” Correa said. “Just watching the game, I noticed that he was striking everybody out with a fastball, and you see him bumping his chest and screaming.”
So, when he fell behind in the count 0-2, Correa was expecting a fastball. He got one and lined it to left field for a two-run double.
That was Rodón’s last pitch of the outing, a 97-mph fastball, as he allowed two runs in 2 2/3 innings.
After the game, Rodón was asked about lingering in the dugout for a few moments as the fans turned for the exits and the Astros celebrated their ALDS victory. But if Rodón noticed the implication behind the question, that it might have been his last time in the White Sox’ home dugout, he didn’t acknowledge it.
“You just think through the season you had,” Rodón said. “And then you look at the guys out on the field that are cheering in front of you. And, for me, I wanted that feeling. That's why I just sat there -- sat there and watched just for a little extra motivation.”