Carlos Rodon was everything the White Sox could have hoped for Saturday.
The rookie left-hander showed off his knee-buckling slider and a fastball that continued to hit 98 mph after six innings and more than 100 pitches.
Rodon struck out eight batters – all swinging – and paced the White Sox to an 8-2 victory over the Reds in his first Major League start to split a doubleheader at U.S. Cellular Field.
“I felt comfortable,” Rodon said. “Two-seamer was working good. I could throw that nice and easy, and it has that late life and sink.”
Rodon, drafted third overall by the White Sox in the 2014 draft, is the top prospect in the organization. He joined the team as a reliever last month and improved in each of his appearances before Saturday’s start.
“This is his comfort zone, really,” White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper said. “He knows how to do this. He’s done this before. It’s the other end that he hadn’t done before, which is pitching relief, and he was doing fine with that.”
Working in place of suspended starter Jeff Samardzija, Rodon allowed just two runs in six innings. Manager Robin Ventura was confident Rodon was adequately stretched out after three relief appearances and didn’t limit him to a pitch count. Rodon finished the night with 108 pitches, 67 of which were strikes.
The left-hander may actually have been a bit unlucky to give up the runs he did. Zack Cozart and Billy Hamilton hit back-to-back bloop singles in the third inning, and both runners scored on Joey Votto’s line drive base hit to left.
Rodon retired the next eight batters he faced.
“Even after giving up the two runs he still battled and got through it,” Ventura said. “That was a big spot for us, for him to come through right there.”
The rookie showed some poise in the first inning, too, after walking Hamilton and Marlon Byrd to lead off the game. He struck out Votto, and the Sox then doubled off Byrd on a popout.
The question now facing the White Sox is how to use Rodon moving forward.
The club’s fourth and fifth starters, John Danks and Hector Noesi, have combined for one win and both own ERAs north of 6.00.
As Cooper said Saturday, Rodon is being groomed to be a front-end starter – not a one- or two-inning reliever.
“I’ve always been a starter and I think Robin and Coop, they understand that I am a starter,” Rodon said. “It’s just a transition. … Tomorrow my job is to be on that bench and support the team.”
Rodon made two starts at Triple-A Charlotte before being promoted to the big leagues. He made three relief appearances in the last two weeks and allowed just two runs in six-plus innings.
He figures to join the rotation on a full-time basis at some point this season, but the White Sox won’t say when. Ventura said Friday that he expects Rodon to rejoin the bullpen first – but with the back-end of the rotation struggling and a new back injury that struck Noesi on Saturday, things could change.
But Ventura was mum on the subject after Rodon’s stellar start.
“He stays on the team,” Ventura said dryly when asked if Rodon would move into the starting rotation. “We’re trying to just get through today and then we’ll get through tomorrow.”