Carlos Rodon wasn’t one to ruminate on the uniqueness of what will likely be the worst start of his career last Monday. He couldn’t make it past a third of an inning, and more specifically couldn’t go three-straight pitches without missing by a foot to his arm side. When asked about the the unprecedented absence of his control, Rodon tried to normalize it:
“No command, nothing. … I’ve had it happen before, but it would have been nice to go three or four (innings) for the guys instead of a third of an inning. Just didn’t happen today.”
For such a mechanical breakdown, I expected there to be a report of a rigorous mid-week side session with pitching coach Don Cooper where a mechanical issue was identified and smoothed out.
Instead there was relative quiet, and Saturday, everything was suddenly fixed. 58 strikes out of 98 pitches isn’t an amazing percentage, If anything, Rodon seemed discouraged from trying to be too fine, pounding the heart of the zone with his 92-96 mph fastball. The result was at least his second best outing of the year.
Rodon didn’t issue any of his two walks until the sixth inning. But the postgame scrum found him subdued and perhaps less interested in discussing the fix than he was diagnosing the problem.
“After an outing like that you come out a little more focused,” Rodon said, almost whispering, “I guess a little more juice and I was ready to go.”
His manager, Robin Ventura, had more jokes than specifics for his explanation of Rodon’s recovery.
“Well, he had a lot of rest,” Ventura quipped. “He came back with an attitude, and throwing strikes. He’s a tough kid.”
If that seems oversimplified, his loquacious battery-mate Alex Avila had a more clear cut assessment of how Rodon succeeded, and how it will always be when Rodon will succeed.
“He was throwing strikes. When he’s throwing strikes, he’s going to be really good,” Avila said.
“That’s the bottom line. He’s got great stuff, good movement on his fastball. Everybody knows about his slider. He’s been getting the changeup in there as well over the past few starts. When he’s throwing strikes, he’s going to be really good. Today he was working both sides of the plate really well with his fastball, got a few strikeouts there with the slider late in the counts to some of those guys. For him, if he’s commanding in the zone, he’s going to get a lot of guys out. ”
The basic idea being, Rodon’s stuff is so electric, that he just needs to point it at the plate and let 94 mph with life and a 70-grade slider do the rest. Rodon can’t ever be Phil Hughes and just spam the zone, simply because it’s not in him to show that much, and his in-zone contact percentage is middle-of-the-pack. Getting hitters to chase his unhittable stuff out of the zone is an essential part of his game. In fact, it happens almost no matter how out of sorts he is.
Sorting the starts in his short career by whether or not he threw 60 percent of his pitches for strikes reveals his strikeout rate is barely affected when he’s wild (24 percent to 22 percent), it’s just a matter of getting him through innings (goes from six innings per start to less than five and a third) and overall effectiveness (3.60 ERA up to 4.19).
If there’s a reason last Monday inspired no great reaction or adjustment, it’s because it was just a pronounced flareup of the essential problem with Rodon that’s been being addressed since he arrived. This spring, the crow hop installed in his delivery was all the rage, but preseason adjustments like that often get tagged as a cure-all rather than a step in the process, and that process includes prodigious flameouts like Monday and sudden recoveries flowing into each other seamlessly.
Lead Photo Image: John Hefti // USA Today Sports Images