GLENDALE, Ariz. — Carlos Rodon had something good to sleep on over the winter, those final eight starts in which he allowed no more than two earned runs.“I looked back on it,” Rodon said Saturday. “It was one of the best pitching runs I had, ever.”As spring training opened for pitchers and catchers this weekend, Rodon was no longer the prized rookie finding his way in camp. He’s been there and done that, and knows what it takes to get through a full major league season. His confidence seems to bewhere it should be, elevated but not out of whack.“I guess you can say I’m one year older,” the 23-year-old left-hander said. “That’s about it. It’s different. I’m just a little more comfortable with what I’m doing here. I’m still a young guy. Getting my feet wet and just trying to get better.”“Excited to get the season started,” Rodon was one of the early arrivals. In camp he’ll continue to work on making his changeup a more useful pitch and locating his fastball. When he got tagged for 12 runs over 7 2/3 innings in starts against the Yankees and Rays, Rodon’s ERA was up to 5.00 on Aug. 5. His slider is an elite pitch, and when he got his fastball under control, things took a turn for the better. He finished with a 3.75 ERA to go with a 9-6 record over 139 1/3 innings.“Fastball command,” Rodon said. “Everything was there. I was confident.”
Rodon finished with 9.0 strikeouts per nine innings (good) and 4.6 walks (not good). The good thing is the strikeout rate was similar in both halves of the season while the walks improved during the second half.
Efficiency the goal for Sale
Chris Sale set a club record for strikeouts last season but the Sox won’t be disappointed if he falls short of the 274 he record in 2016. Manager Robin Ventura would like to Sale get more outs early in counts, which would allow him to pitch deeper into games and perhaps prolong his career. Ventura said the same goes for Rodon.
“It doesn’t matter how you become more efficient, it doesn’t matter how you do it as long as you do it,” Ventura said Saturday. “For him for longevity you want to … get an out on a first pitch and not rely so much on a strikeout deep in a count.
“We’ve seen him develop as far as a starter. Early on he was not very efficient at all. There are times when he gets a high pitch count early in a game and I think he’s got a lot better at it. He’s more aware of it, how to attack hitters and last longer in a game. That’s the maturation process for him to be able to understand that, have a plan and know how to go about it.”
The subject of how long Ventura’s leash will be with $13 million designated hitter Adam LaRoche came up before LaRoche even arrived to camp. Ventura said at SoxFest that LaRoche, who hit .214 with 12 homers in his first year as a designated hitter, will have to earn his at-bats this year. LaRoche is also earning a hefty sum with no obvious alternatives at DH.
“He’s going to be in there to play, but I think everybody is in there to earn at-bats,” Ventura said Saturday. “Is it better for him to not play? No. He’s going to have to earn at-bats, just like everybody else.”
There’s little doubt LaRoche’s track record and salary will buy him a second chance. What remains to be seen is, should he struggle again, how soon Ventura goes to a Plan B.
“We’re trying to win games, and he understands that,” Ventura said. “It’s not a knock against him. It’s just he knows we’re going to have to be able to score some runs.”
When it was suggested that LaRoche has no one pushing him for at-bats, Ventura said “Yeah, we have guys to be able to play there, but nobody is pushing them harder than themselves. They want to do well. They’re motivated, and that’s what we’re going to see.”