"I feel like there's some stuff I need to prove."
That was Carlos Rodón last summer, when after years of inconsistent performance and horrible injury luck he was ready to show he deserved a prominent role in the White Sox pitching plans.
He got hurt again and missed much of the shortened 60-game season. When he returned at the end of the campaign, he was relegated to bullpen duty, and it went poorly. He was non-tendered in December, brought back on a money-saving $3 million deal. He was no lock to make the starting rotation out of camp.
On Wednesday night, Rodón threw the 20th no-hitter in White Sox history.
"It's a pretty special moment," Rodón said afterward. "We always talk about it, it seems like. Any interview with (reporters), it's like, 'Oh, there's been some ups and downs. What's it like to go through that, go through some adversity?'
"It just feels good to finally sit here and tell you, 'I dominated today.' ... It feels good to say, 'I did it.'"
Wednesday night, Rodón was the pitcher the White Sox envisioned him becoming when they used the No. 3 overall pick on him in the 2014 draft. Starting at that moment, he was saddled with the expectations that accompanied his draft position, pegged to be an ace of the future. And though he flew to the major leagues, disjointed seasons due to injuries meant he never lived up to that hype.
He made just 12 starts in 2017, 20 in 2018, seven in 2019 and two in 2020. He's had significant procedures and missed significant time.
But starting this spring, thanks to working with new White Sox pitching coach Ethan Katz, Rodón has started to finally look like that ace the White Sox were hoping for all along.
"I think after that first real start in spring," Rodón said, asked when he started feeling like his old self again. "There were two fastballs I threw to Manny Machado that were pretty hard. And the respect I have for Manny Machado as a hitter, knowing I could beat him with a fastball, that's where I said, 'OK. I've got a fastball I can still throw by people.' And that's where my mentality changed."
Rodón ran away with the No. 5 starter job, leaving fellow competitor Reynaldo López — who Rodón called a brother — in his rearview mirror. He looked terrific in his season debut against the Seattle Mariners, allowing the White Sox to dream of how deep this starting rotation can be come October.
Then he went out and retired 27 of the 28 Cleveland Indians hitters he faced Wednesday night, coming one pitch off Roberto Pérez's foot from joining baseball's elite perfect-game club.
It's a heck of a transformation for Rodón, whose most recent action prior to this spring was getting roughed up by these same Indians and the Oakland Athletics in disastrous relief appearances. Before he was a White Sox employee, Katz worked his magic helping Lucas Giolito turn into an All Star. Giolito threw a no-hitter last summer. Now Katz has produced a similar result, from a no-hitter standpoint, at least, with Rodón.
Of course, as Rodón was quick to point out, this was just his second start in what he hopes is a season that stretches deep into October. When it comes to proving himself, a no-hitter sure is nice, but a season's worth of quality outings is better.
"It's going to be hard to top this one," he said. "Lance Lynn said it a couple days ago, when he threw that CG shutout: He goes, 'Baseball gives you 24 hours.'
"Baseball's pretty humbling. It's that quick. It'll eat you, spit you out. And sometimes it'll reward you. It's kind of the same mentality I have to have.
"I've got (another start) five days from now. Obviously, right now, I'm going to enjoy the moment. But tomorrow, work starts all over, because there's quite a few more starts to go."
And that more than anything else is what Rodón wants to prove: that he's dependable, that he can make all those starts. If he can do that, then the White Sox can start thinking about the playoffs and about how they could carve up opposing lineups with the likes of Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Lynn and Rodón.
The White Sox solved the problem that bounced them from that series with the A's by bringing in Lynn. But they'll need more than just three starting pitchers to win multiple postseason series, to win a world championship.
Rodón made the biggest statement possible that he's up for the job Wednesday night.
After the first-round hype and the inconsistency and the significant arm injuries and being non-tendered and competing for a job, Rodón said it best:
"I did it."