MINNEAPOLIS – In his last start against the Minnesota Twins, White Sox left-hander Carlos Rodon put his head down and endured a lashing. The results would be what they would be, and they weren’t good.
“I got my butt whipped,’’ Rodon said.
Armed with a mid-90s fastball and one of baseball’s nastiest sliders, Rodon knew he would need a three-pitch mix to be more than ordinary, so he set out to throw his changeup early and often that night. He threw 20, which was 19 more than his previous start.
“It was good,’’ Rodon said. “They were just hitting everything else. I just got hit, man. But we weren’t scared to throw it, so, I just got comfortable with it.’’
That was on July 31 when the Twins got him for five runs on eight hits over 6 1/3 innings in an 8-2 loss, raising Rodon’s ERA to 4.76. After that, though, Rodon pitched six innings of one-run ball against the Baltimore Orioles to embark on a run in which he allowed one, one, two, zero and one earned runs in five August starts, good for a 1.47 ERA over the month — the best in the American League and second only to the Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks (1.28) in the majors.
In his first start of September, back at Target Field, Rodon allowed three earned runs over seven innings in a 11-4 White Sox win that halted a four-game losing streak. Rodon (6-8, 3.90) needed only 79 pitches to complete seven innings for the first time since April.
“There were a few pitches that [weren’t sharp],’’ said Rodon, who gave up a three-run homer to Brian Dozier, his 33rd, on a belt-high fastball over the middle of the plate in the third inning, walked only one and struck out four. “Dozier has been on me all year. I just can’t get him. But overall, I made a good adjustment late, and [Onar] Narvaez did a great job calling the game.’’
Adam Eaton singled four times and walked, Jose Abreu and Melky Cabrera had three hits apiece and Todd Frazier hit his 35th homer against Kyle Gibson (5-9) as the Sox tied their season high with 16 hits and 11 runs against the Twins (51-84), who had defeated the Sox Thursday to halt a 13-game losing streak.
That barrage of offense was refreshing, but Rodon’s continuing development into a potential elite starter is probably what mattered most to a front office already looking ahead to 2017 and beyond. Mastering three pitches is essential, and Rodon is now throwing the change with confidence.
“It’s a pitch I’m definitely going to use more often,’’ he said.
Oh what a difference a third pitch makes.
“It’s huge,’’ Rodon said. “The changeup gets them off my fastball and makes it seem a little harder. It opens up the plate for me to throw heaters in there, and they just beat it in the ground or pop up.’’
According to BrooksBaseball, Rodon’s changeup usage was at 17 percent in August, easily a career high and the peak month in a steady usage climb, from five percent in April, four percent in May, eight percent in June and 10 percent in July.
“It’s a pitch I’ve been trying to develop since I’ve been in professional baseball,’’ said Rodon, a 23-year-old who was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft. “It’s taken two, two and a half years.’’
“He’s commanding the changeup now,’’ said rookie catcher Omar Narvaez, who caught Rodon for the eighth time Friday. “We can throw it when we’re ahead or behind. If you have three pitches a hitter has to worry about, it makes you so much better. And now we found out we can throw the slider back door (to the outside corner to right hand hitters) so that helps us a lot. He’s been pretty good.’’