Carlos Rodon looked more like the pitcher who has flashed a world of potential than the guy who couldn’t find the plate in his first start of the season in Monday’s 7-2 win over the Oakland Athletics. Rodon struck out 10, cruising into the seventh inning in what amounted to a complete 180 from his debut struggles.
It wasn’t just that Rodon dominated a bad A’s lineup (Oakland is second in the majors in strikeout rate), it’s how he did it. Someone with his stuff is always going to find success when he’s commanding his pitches and throwing first pitch strikes, and that’s exactly what he did on Monday.
Don Cooper told me last year that one of the keys to Rodon reaching his potential was to get his first pitch strike percentage up to 60 percent, which is about league average. Including his 2017 debut against the Yankees, Rodon’s career first pitch strike percentage was 53.4 percent. In Monday’s win, he started 17 of the 27 batters he faced with a strike (62.9 percent).
Not just that, but Rodon wasn’t simply grabbing strikes, he was blowing it past poor, helpless hitters all night. He generated 26 swings and misses, per Brooks Baseball, nine more than his career high of 17 (done twice in his rookie season two years ago). A quick and very unofficial glance through the top strikeout games of the season found only one start that generated more — Max Scherzer, who had 28 on May 31 against the Giants.
It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, of course. He still wound up with three walks in his 6 1/3 innings. But the only real trouble he found himself in was in the second inning when he allowed a one out double to old friend Josh Phegley, proceeded to walk the bases loaded, then caught too much of the plate with a fastball that Adam Rosales poked through for a two-run single.
He bounced back to strike out Rajai Davis on three pitches to end the inning.
What’s more, his changeup was exactly the third offering he and the White Sox had hoped it’d become. 15 of the 19 he threw went for strikes and seven of those 15 were of the swinging variety. This falls pretty well in line with his second half of 2016 when he appeared to turn the corner. In the first three months of 2017, Rodon was throwing his changeup just 5.87 percent of the time. From July on, that number increased to 14.47. Monday’s start falls pretty well in line with that second half, as he threw the changeup 18.6 percent of the time.
With Rodon, it’s always been difficult to balance excitement over his potential with tempered expectations given how raw his talent remains. The caveat that this was just one start against a bad A’s team isn’t mentioned to throw rain on our parade, but to serve as a reminder that he’s far from a finished product. This isn’t the best we’ve seen from Rodon — hell, just by game score he had seven starts as good as or better last season alone — and we’re still just one start removed from his displaying a complete inability to locate the strike zone.
Still, Monday’s start showed what is possible when Rodon is at his best. If he can sustain this kind of command on a start-to-start basis, he’s going to find quite a bit of success regardless of the opponent.
Lead Photo Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports