I had three hopes for Carlos Rodon when he took the mound against the Red Sox on Saturday afternoon.
No. 1: Five innings. That’s my standard, boring answer for any kind of pitching debut, but it means enough went right.
No. 2: Lively stuff. I didn’t expect him to live 95+ or snap off his best sliders with any kind of reliability, but I wanted to see overpowering pitches scattered here and there over the course of his day.
No. 3: The ability to make a next start. It was only last spring that Rodon dominated a Cactus League start after a lengthy and suspicious delay, only to get scratched from his next outing and miss the first three months of the season.
Rodon hit No. 1 right on the nose, neither one out more nor one out fewer. Considering he had to pitch past three errors, five innings is a job well done.
He exceeded expectations for the second goal, even while looking rusty. He largely avoided his slider early after bouncing a couple of the first ones past Kevan Smith. He tried only six of them through three innings, and when I went to circle their locations, I realized that I was basically drawing a poop emoji.
Even though one of the sliders was in the zone, none of them counted for strikes. So he ditched it, working mostly fastball changeup. A Jackie Bradley Jr. homer on a low-90s fastball seemed to work as smelling salts, as he started firing his fastball with greater intent afterward …
… and getting some ugly swings on high heat along the way.
The White Sox have a starting pitcher who can get goofy swings again. pic.twitter.com/ptRw06gVsw
— Jim Margalus (@SoxMachine) June 9, 2018
The Red Sox made Rodon reconsider his slider in the fourth after a first-pitch single (changeup) and a second-pitch single (92 mph fastball) put runners on the corners. Necessity got him to flip the switch. He found at least one slider variation — his hard, 90-mph slider that he could throw with the intent of the cutter. He first effective slider was a swinging strike three by Bradley for the second out, and his third one to Andrew Benintendi ended the inning.
The changeup got him in trouble again in the fifth (J.D. Martinez parked a hanger), and his slider feel eluded him again, but Rodon was able to ratchet up the fastball and get grounders.
If you liked what you saw, so did Kevan Smith:
“Carlos has that killer eye in his look whenever he starts getting a little geeked up, when he’s about to throw some stuff that is going to be unhittable,” said catcher Kevan Smith, giving an amusing turn on a familiar phrase. “Even whenever we were catching in Triple-A, he had the same things kind of happen. He would pitch out of these jams and that’s what I’m saying. He has a fastball that just — it’s very similar to Dylan [Covey]’s — they just move so much that if you can front hip guys like he was today, the righties, and just kind of control it and let it do its work, it’s an impressive pitch.”
Rodon didn’t have everything in place on his first day back, but he had moments with everything in his arsenal. Even as a partial pitcher, he was able to seize control of innings the way the rest of the White Sox staff can’t, and even in the innings where was limited to fastball-changeup. The hope is that he can get back to throwing his slider like two separate breaking balls — a sweeping one for strikes, and the darting one for strikeouts.
Check that — the real hope is that he makes his next appearane in five days and shows no decline in stuff from his first start to his second. If the good slider comes with him, so much the better.