The nice little buzz circulating around the White Sox’ future rotation this week lost some of its hum when left-hander Carlos Rodon was scratched just moments before his scheduled start Thursday against the Indians.
Rodon, with the likely inside track to become the Opening Day starter in 2018, had gone to the bullpen to warm up but cut his pregame routine short and was scratched because of shoulder stiffness.
It was a concerning development, considering Rodon missed a significant portion of spring training and almost all of the first three months of the season with bursitis in his upper biceps, which essentially is a shoulder problem.
“Yeah, just didn’t feel right warming up,’’ Rodon said after the Indians trounced the Sox 11-2 without him.
“I can’t really put a finger on it. Just a day you don’t feel right, and you don’t want to . . . compete when you’re not at your best, you know. Didn’t feel right.’’
Rodon will have an MRI exam Friday.
Right-hander Mike Pelfrey (3-11, 5.51 ERA) started in Rodon’s place against Indians right-hander Corey Kluber, perhaps the top Cy Young contender, who would improve to 15-4 and keep his ERA at 2.56 while helping the streaking Indians roll to a franchise-record 15th win in a row.
Pelfrey, who threw 40 pitches in 2‰ innings in relief Tuesday, was thrust into a tough assignment on late notice and allowed seven runs in four innings. He gave up four runs and five hits, including a three-run blast by Edwin Encarnacion, in the first inning. Francisco Lindor and Erik Gonzalez also homered off Pelfrey, and Greg Allen hit his first career homer against Jace Fry. Gonzalez hit his second homer in the ninth, against Rob Brantly, the first catcher in Sox history to pitch in a game.
But the much bigger concern was Rodon, 24, who was scheduled to make his 13th start — his first was on June 28 — and was 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA and 45 strikeouts in his last seven starts.
Three days before his most recent start against the Rays on Saturday, Rodon said he was encouraged by how good his shoulder felt. A rain delay limited his start against Tampa Bay to four innings, and he allowed one run.
“Yeah, it’s tough,’’ he said. “It’s frustrating. Things happen. You just move on from this.’’
On a day in which he played catch between starts while the team was in Minnesota last week, Rodon told the Sun-Times the shoulder “feels a lot better” and seemed to be improving. He said Thursday that his season has been a roller coaster.
“Yeah, you know it’s been up and down,’’ he said. “Had some good starts. Now we’re fumbling it.’’
With 3½ weeks left, it seems reasonable to believe Rodon (2-5, 4.15 ERA) has made his final appearance of 2017. Even if the MRI result is favorable, the Sox are almost certain to exercise utmost caution, having no need to pitch him again.
When Rodon said he felt “uncomfortable,’’ manager Rick Renteria said, “Instead of pushing him, [you] use caution and take him out. I couldn’t give you a grade [on the severity] because he’s made his last few starts. So this was a surprise, obviously, to everybody.’’
Rodon’s 383 career strikeouts are the most by a Sox pitcher in his first 66 games. He’s expected to be the leader in 2018 of a young rotation, a group that has been coming into focus in recent weeks with strong performances by 23-year-old prospects Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez and a visit from 21-year-old Michael Kopech.
Kluber, who gave up a homer to Yolmer Sanchez leading off the first and then Jose Abreu’s 28th homer, clipped through the Sox’ lineup after that, striking out 13 in eight innings and allowing three hits.
It was the 14th time this season that Kluber has had double-digit strikeouts.
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