That there's a chance Carlos Rodón won't be on the Chicago White Sox' roster for the American League Division Series means there's a chance he will be. Let's get that out of the way first.
But it was difficult to listen to Tony La Russa speak about Rodón's status before Sunday's regular-season finale and not feel the concern that the White Sox could start their chase for a championship down one of their best starting pitchers.
"He's like the great unknown," La Russa said, not exactly inspiring a great deal of confidence that the South Side starting staff would be whole for the first round of the postseason.
To catch anyone up who might need it, Rodón has been bothered by persistent shoulder soreness during the second half of the season, supposedly a result of a huge increase in his workload following injury-affected campaigns in each of the last three years.
Even though the White Sox have been preparing for this for months, starting him late in spring training and giving him plenty of extra rest between starts, the soreness is not going away as quickly as they would like, forcing even more time off between outings so he can recover. He spent some time on the injured list because of the issue, and it's bedeviled him down the stretch.
Last week in Detroit, Rodón lasted just three innings, exiting after telling La Russa he didn't feel right and sparking managerial concern over what the lefty could give the White Sox in the postseason. La Russa placed a ton of importance on Rodón's final regular-season start, earlier this week against the Cincinnati Reds, and it seemingly went well, featuring five scoreless, one-hit innings. But the South Side skipper refused to make a judgment on Rodón's playoff availability until after the team learned how he responded.
That process is ongoing.
The playoffs are only getting closer, though, with the White Sox opening their series with the Houston Astros on Thursday in Texas. Rodón won't be called on for either of the first two games at Minute Maid Park, those starts going to Lucas Giolito and Lance Lynn, the order not yet finalized. But he would figure to be needed after that, once the series shifts to the South Side, ideally in Game 3 or for a Game 4, if necessary.
But according to La Russa, it's to be determined whether Rodón can pitch in the series at all, if he'll even be one of the 26 players on the team's roster.
"I think the plan now is for him to throw a bullpen maybe Tuesday, and (we'll) check that out very carefully and fast forward to when he would go out there and make a determination. But that could be a tough call," La Russa said. "I mean, there's no way to answer it today without flipping a coin. We just need to check him out Tuesday. And really, I think the roster doesn't go in till Thursday morning, maybe see how he feels on Wednesday.
"It's that important and that tough a call."
That's somewhat alarming, considering how good Rodón has been when he's been on the mound this season, turning in Cy Young-caliber results. He threw the no-hitter against the Cleveland Indians in April, but he's been just as good since, matching an AL record with five starts of five-plus innings and one or fewer runs allowed. He finished the regular season with a 2.37 ERA and 185 strikeouts in 132.2 innings, good for a 12.6 K/9, one of the best marks among AL starting pitchers.
The White Sox have made it this far mostly on the backs of their starting pitching, which has been dominant through much of the campaign. Losing one key part of that staff with the season on the line, even as the lineup has found some consistency during a six-game winning streak in the regular season's final week, would be a big deal.
Fortunately for the White Sox, they're not short on alternatives, though obviously none would be as impressive as Rodón has been in 2021. Dallas Keuchel seems destined to be on the roster after pitching in relief Saturday night. Reynaldo López filled in for Rodón when the left-hander was on the IL, and he did a good job. Michael Kopech has been stretched out of late to throw multiple innings and could be deployed as an opener, should the White Sox choose that route.
As mentioned at the top, if it's possible that Rodón might not pitch in the ALDS, it's possible that he will, perhaps starting a crucial game and turning in a performance not unlike the one he did earlier this week.
But there will be nothing as closely monitored as the White Sox count down the days to the start of their postseason Thursday than the left-hander's health.
"That's the issue, stamina and strength," La Russa said. "Is he going to have as much as he had, more than he had, less than he had? (We'll) take a look Tuesday."