The most important takeaway from Carlos Rodón's outing Wednesday night is still to come.
The Chicago White Sox will wait to determine what shape their left-handed starting pitcher will be in for next week's American League Division Series until they see how he recovers from an impressive outing against the Cincinnati Reds.
Rodón allowed just one hit in five scoreless innings in the White Sox' 6-1 win, quite the leap from his previous outing against the Detroit Tigers more than a week ago, when he made an early exit after three laborious innings and told manager Tony La Russa he wasn't feeling himself, sparking managerial concern and a weeklong effort to get him ready for Wednesday night.
All along, La Russa hammered home the importance of this start for Rodón and the White Sox, that it would inform them what he can give in October.
That information, though, is incomplete until the White Sox see how Rodón's persistently sore left shoulder responds.
"The big key will be how he feels (Thursday)," La Russa said after the game. "It's an off day, but we'll be checking in on him. And for sure, Friday. ... It really depends on how he feels, and we'll reserve judgment. But he pitched.
"We've seen all year long what he can do if he's himself. The key is: Is he himself? He sat down and went back out there five times. That's a big box checked, that's important. But you reserve judgment till you see how he feels."
It's been a delicate task for the White Sox to manage Rodón this year as he came off multiple seasons of significant arm injuries. They started his spring workload late, and they provided extra, ample rest between outings throughout the regular season. When he's been on the mound, seemingly benefitting from all that extra rest, he's turned in Cy Young-caliber results, including the no-hitter he tossed in April.
So you can see why they'd like to include him in their postseason pitching plans.
While he hasn't pitched every five days, making just 24 starts during the regular season, his workload has increased in dramatic fashion from the 7.2 innings he threw in 2020 and the 34.2 innings he tossed in 2019. Wednesday's outing capped his 2021 campaign at 132.2 innings, with a career-best 2.37 ERA.
"To put it in perspective, I threw (7.2) innings last year. This year I've thrown (132.2). That’s (more than 18) times the innings. That's a lot on a body," Rodón said. "But I'm not going to use that as an excuse. As you see, I still go out and go do my job.
"So I have to go win for a team, and that's what I'm going to do."
As much as Rodón was able to accomplish after being non-tendered in December, the focus now is squarely on the immediate future and what he can give the White Sox as they start a chase for a championship next week.
La Russa forecasted that the team will take whatever it can get from Rodón in the postseason, even if it's just a few innings in an outing. Certainly the bullpen seems to be stocked for such a situation, with La Russa deploying Michael Kopech for three innings of relief work Wednesday and Reynaldo López also figuring to be used as a long reliever.
But certainly the more he can give the White Sox, the better, and should he be able to do the kind of thing he did Wednesday night, the South Side starting rotation will be the incredibly imposing asset it figured to be before Rodón's late-season health concerns.
That status, though, will remain a mystery as the White Sox hit the final series of the regular season this weekend, as they find out what, exactly, they can get out of one of the pitchers who helped them become World Series contenders in the first place.
"I'll probably be sore, just like after every time I pitch," Rodón said, matter-of-factly. "Just take these days and get ready for whatever the postseason holds for me and my team."