It’s a strange season on the South Side; the All-Star Break is quietly approaching, yet baseball hasn’t seen Carlos Rodon throw a single pitch in the majors yet.
Rodon’s biceps bursitis has left him sidelined since spring–an injury that seemingly creeped up out of nowhere–the White Sox and Rodon continually claiming that Rodon felt fine. Yet, here we are in June, and clearly, that was not the case.
But after a few rehab starts it’s beginning to sound like the young lefty who holds much promise for the future of the White Sox will make his triumphant return to the big leagues quite soon. Possibly even next week.
“It’s possible, absolutely,” Manager Rick Renteria said of Rodon returning next week before Saturday’s game one night after Rodon suffered a rough outing with the Charlotte Knights. “I think our plans are probably to get him back with us,” Renteria added when asked if he thought Rodon needed another start before returning to the South Side.
Rodon pitched 4.1 innings against the Durham Bulls on Friday, allowing seven earned runs, two walks and seven strikeouts. The final line for Rodon may not have been extremely promising for a pitcher who may make his return to the rotation in just a few days, however, the important factors were all checked off the list for Renteria. “Actually, in talking to everybody, he threw pretty well,” Renteria said. “Had a couple miscues in the field that were probably limited his outing. He felt good, pain-free, we’re very happy with that. According to the reports, the slider was working very well. He’s on track to come on back.”
Renteria also mentioned that Rodon’s velocity was good: a strong indication that he’s reaching a point in which he’s ready to make his return to the big league mound. Rodon’s fastball reached a speeds as high as 96 mph Friday evening.
“We just want him back simply because [Rodon] is a good big league starter and we want to have him continue to improve on what he’s been doing over the past couple of years. It’s not the way we’d have wanted him to have started his return back to 2017, but it is what it is. We’re going to be happy to have him back,” Renteria said.
Rodon has compiled a 3.90 ERA in 304 innings pitched since his debut, and saw considerable rise in success once he began to gain feel for his changeup — a pitch that needed much refinement to give Rodon a strong third pitch to go with his already devastating slider and good fastball. Rodon’s uptick in changeup usage came in the second half of 2016, when he threw the pitch between 20 and 26 percent of the time and saw his whiff rate on the pitch jump consistently to around 15 percent. Rodon also gained much sharper command of his changeup, seeing his walk rate on the pitch drop from 15.6 percent in 2016 to just 5.9 percent in 2017. This helped Rodon bring his strikeout rate up to 9.16 per nine innings in 2016, while dropping his walk rate to 2.95 per nine — down from 4.95 in his first season.
“I still think he’s getting better, absolutely,” Renteria said of Rodon. “He’s got a couple years under his belt in the big leagues here with the White Sox, and every year including last we started to see more and more improvement. That’s why it was unfortunate that he was unable to break 2017 with us, but he’s going to come back and continue to hopefully improve.”
An unfortunate break at an unfortunate time. The White Sox, who have been renowned as an organization for keeping their pitchers healthy, have seen a plethora of their starting pitching hit the disabled list in just the first two months of the season, including most recently starter Miguel Gonzalez. The White Sox need reliable starting pitching more than ever, and with the return of James Shields to the rotation and likely Rodon in the near future, the puzzle is starting to look a bit less haphazard.
“Health is the most important thing for these guys to be able to have the chance to perform,” Renteria said of the flurry of injuries that have recently plagued the White Sox, and not just on the mound. “I’m glad we’re moving in that direction, and once they’re out on the field hopefully they’ll have the health to try to perform and help us win ballgames on a daily basis.”
Though they’re in the midst of a rebuild, there have been some exciting times this season on the South side in their own right. Seeing Rodon make his return to the mound as a symbol of part of the Sox’s youth movement and key piece in the club’s future will certainly be another one to add to the list.