The question about Carlos Rodon for a few years now has been “When will he finally break out?”
Four years into his professional career, though, it might be fair to now revise that down to “Will he ever break out?”
For the last two years, it has seemed like the only thing holding Rodon back has been his health. A myriad of ailments have limited him to fewer than 200 innings the last two seasons combined, and in the 69 1/3 innings he threw in 2017, we got enough of a glimpse of good Rodon to remain optimistic he would develop into the top end starting pitcher the White Sox always hoped he’d become.
He was shut down late, of course, and wound up having arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder that kept him sidelined until June of this season. The good news for Rodon is that once he returned, he showed no signs of that injury or any other. The bad news was, well … the results. The walk rate jumped back up to more than 4 per nine innings pitched, and the strikeout rate which was always acceptably around 9 K/9, dropped considerably, and the swinging strike rate expectedly jumped along with it.
There was really no way to easily explain the struggles, which is honestly kind of a good thing. Where a dip in velocity or out-of-whack mechanics would be easy to identify, they would also be a bigger reason for concern that his shoulder surgery was proving a hindrance. That wasn’t the case at all, and the month and a half where Rodon produced good results — from July 5 through August 27 he had a 1.84 ERA in 63 2/3 innings despite just 49 strikeouts against 27 walks — showed that he can at times get by without his best stuff.
It’s that success that makes the vulnerability he’s shown that much more frustrating. We’ve seen Rodon at his best, such as the 11 strikeout, 0 walk performance against Boston last August, and although he wasn’t missing bats at a sustainable rate this season, he still showed the ability to blow mid-to-high 90s heat and his nasty, wipeout slider past hitters at times. But between those blips of success were command issues where he couldn’t find the strike zone and got pounded when he did.
For what it’s worth, both Rodon and the White Sox believe a full and healthy offseason will be part of the cure to those woes. And maybe they’re right. As of this writing, it’s expected that Rodon will enter camp next spring at 100 percent, which is something we haven’t seen in a few years. And that plus being another year removed from surgery may be exactly what helps elevate him to the level both he and the team know he can reach.
Rodon becoming a top-of-the-rotation starter is a bit factor in the White Sox rebuild living up to expectations. He still has a chance to do that, but until he puts it all together — both from a health and results standpoint —the skepticism will remain.
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