Cooper bullish on Carlos Rodon: ‘We’re on to something now’

Of all the storylines involved in the White Sox’ rebuild, the Carlos Rodon angle matters. It really does.

The talented 24-year-old left-hander has been pegged as a top-of-the-rotation starter since the day the Sox picked him third overall in the 2014 draft. Three years later, as the Sox stockpile pieces in their farm system to join him in what they think will be a championship-caliber rotation, Rodon is trying to stay on a path toward being the leader of them all.

Rodon wants to be elite. He has shown flashes of brilliance, but his road also has been rocky at times because of control problems. When he’s on, Rodon is as good as there is, with one of the best sliders in baseball, a riding fastball and a changeup with movement that works well below the strike zone.

When he’s not on, Rodon is pitching behind in counts, closing in on 100 pitches by the fifth inning and burning up the Sox’ bullpen. His first five starts this season sent pitching coach Don Cooper, bullpen coach Curt Hasler and Rodon to the film room, where they found common mechanical glitches that affected his location.

Carlos Rodon pitches against the Red Sox in Boston Friday. Rodon struck out 11 and walked none (AP)

‘‘We’re on to something now,’’ Cooper said. ‘‘I feel good where he’s at.’’

Rodon struck out 11 Red Sox and walked none in 7⅔ innings of two-run ball in his last start Friday. In his previous outing, he struck out nine Indians, walked two and allowed one run in 6⅔ innings. Before that, he had 11 strikeouts but allowed seven hits and three walks in a maddening loss to the Cubs in which he needed 98 pitches to finish four innings.

Granted, Rodon — who will take a 1-4 record and a 4.66 ERA into his scheduled start Thursday against the Astros at Guaranteed Rate Field — missed most of spring training and three months of the regular season because of soreness in the upper biceps of his pitching arm. But he has had stretches of command issues even when healthy and sharp.

‘‘Now he has to be good at remembering,’’ Cooper said. ‘‘Remembering his keys will help him throw more strikes and make adjustments when he’s not. Over the last two or three starts and sidelines, he’s starting to figure it out.’’

A quietly fierce competitor who let out primal screams after several strikeouts at Fenway Park, Rodon thinks he’s on to something.

‘‘We definitely built some confidence,’’ Rodon said Sunday. ‘‘Just working toward the catcher, back to the front. It’s simple stuff.’’

‘‘It has been the same thing for a long time,’’ Cooper said. ‘‘He has not been able to remember that and repeat that. But here’s what was happening: His head was jammed up. He had anxiousness. He wasn’t trusting, believing. His confidence level was down in his ability to throw strikes. Frustration and negativity set in because of that, and he was tying himself up in knots.

‘‘His best physical attribute and gift is a good, live left arm. The mental guy was choking the physical guy and not letting him come out to play. When that happens, you don’t have anything.’’

If Rodon focuses on his keys, throws the first pitch to each hitter for a strike and stays ahead in the count, he can be the elite pitcher he aspires to be, Cooper said.

‘‘Can the hitter hit his stuff?’’ Cooper said. ‘‘I will bet on Carlos against anybody who steps in there. I will double-down if he gets ahead [in the count].’’

Rodon thinks the arrow is pointed up, but it has been up before.

‘‘I definitely built some confidence facing a team like Boston,’’ he said. ‘‘What we have to do is take it into the next start. It’s
another day.’’

NOTE: The Sox sent right fielder Avisail Garcia (sprained right thumb) to Class AAA Charlotte for a rehab assignment. Right-hander Dylan Covey (strained left oblique) was transferred from the Arizona League to Charlotte on his rehab assignment.

Follow me on Twitter @CST_soxvan.

Email: dvanschouwen@suntimes.com

 RELATED STORIES