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Carlos Rodon strong again, White Sox’ bullpen struggles in loss

Carlos Rodon of the White Sox delivers the ball against the Toronto Blue Jays at Guaranteed Rate Field on July 29, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Every start for left-hander Carlos Rodon has the feel of a mini-referendum on his future.

Is he a potential staff ace for a future contending White Sox team, trade fodder because his timeline might not match up with the franchise’s rebuild or something in between?

Recently, Rodon has looked the part of a top-of-the-rotation pitcher, and that trend continued Sunday in the Sox’ 7-4 loss to the Blue Jays.

Rodon left with a 3-2 lead after pitching 7‰ innings. He allowed five hits and struck out six. Other than Aledmys Diaz’s home run in the fifth inning and Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s RBI single in the eighth, Rodon showed the stuff that has propelled him to one of the best stretches of his career.

And it might give him a chance to be a No. 1 starter for a good team.

“He certainly has an opportunity to be able to do something like that, absolutely,’’ manager Rick Renteria said. ‘‘He’s got good enough stuff. He’s been continuing to edge forward. He really looks free and easy out there now. I mean, he looks very, very comfortable. He’s been giving us some good outings. He’s another young man that, as he’s continuing to evolve, has become a little bit more efficient. We hope that efficiency remains there.

“He certainly trusts himself. He’s a competitor, and if he continues to do that, he certainly has a chance to be able to be at the top of the ­rotation.”

Rodon has made four consecutive quality starts and is 3-1 with a 2.79 ERA and 33 strikeouts in his last six. In the eighth, he also showed the competitive side Renteria mentioned.

After a one-out walk, Renteria went out to speak with Rodon, who was at 108 pitches. Renteria kept Rodon in, and he responded by striking out Randal Grichuk before allowing Gurriel Jr.’s run-scoring single on his 116th and last pitch that cut the Sox’ lead to 3-2.

“I think [Renteria] wanted me to stay out there,’’ Rodon said, ‘‘and I was on page with it. That’s my game. Those guys are out there, and I want to finish that eighth for the boys. It just didn’t happen, once again, and the bullpen came in and picked me up.”

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Luis Avilan then got the last out of the eighth before Jace Fry and Jeanmar Gomez combined to allow five in the ninth and squander the victory for Rodon and the Sox. But that didn’t diminish Rodon’s performance. He took more steps away from last September’s shoulder surgery that cost him the first two months of this season.

“Just working quick,” Rodon said. “Once again, [catcher] Omar [Narvaez] and I were on the same page. The defense made some good plays. And we got to pitch into the eighth.”

Rodon’s emergence has been a bright spot for the Sox, whose season is all about the development of young players and trying to figure out who fits in and who doesn’t.

“Clearly, he has the stuff, and he’s commanding the strike zone, he’s attacking, he’s minimizing mistakes, thankfully, as he continues to pitch, and he’s a competitor,’’ Renteria said. ‘‘So he’s got the mentality and the heart, and now he seems to be connecting all of that with the ability to execute. And with the stuff that he has, it’s pretty effective. He throws a ball like that, everybody will take that. He threw the ball great.”