When Carlos Rodon is pitching well, batters often fail to hide their frustration.
Just ask Omar Narvaez. The Sox catcher squats a few feet away from off-balance opponents as they struggle with Rodon’s mix of fastballs, sliders and changeups.
“When he’s going that good, I think everybody gets pissed,” Narvaez said.
As of late, the 25-year-old southpaw has been better than good. He maintained his torrid stretch with eight scoreless innings against the first-place Indians on Friday. He scattered four hits, walked two and struck out five.
Daniel Palka provided the heroics with a walk-off home run to lift the Sox to a 1-0 win. Teammates rushed the field to celebrate with Palka, while reliever Jace Fry enjoyed his first career win.
Yet Rodon provided the most important storyline as he matched the longest scoreless outing of his career.
In his last six outings, Rodon is 2-0 with a 1.27 ERA (six earned runs in 42‰ innings). He has recorded a quality start in each of those performances and boasts a 2.61 ERA overall.
“The confidence is there,” Rodon said. “You feel like you belong. You get your shoulder fixed, and nothing is wrong, there’s no issue. I think there’s no doubt in your mind when you go out there and step on the mound, or when I step on the mound, that I’m healthy and I’m coming to compete.”
Teammates have taken notice. Veteran starter James Shields smiled when asked to explain Rodon’s hot streak.
“You’re trying to figure out why he’s been dominant?” Shields said. “Have you been watching the games? For me, he’s not in that ‘I’m going to strike out everybody’ mode. He’s staying aggressive, he’s around the plate, and he’s mixing his pitches up. He’s becoming a pitcher.”
It is a path Shields knows well. Many young pitchers arrive to the majors trying to blow everyone away, but the best ones mature and discover the importance of quick outs.
When it’s time to rear back for a necessary strikeout, Rodon can do that, too.
“You’re never going to take that out of him,” Shields said. “It’s just a matter of when the right time is to go try to strike somebody out, and when is the time to try to get a ground ball and a quick out. His mentality is to go as deep as he possibly can in the game, and that’s what he’s done over the past five or six starts.”
Rodon can be fiery on the mound but has learned to harness his emotions.
The latest evidence came in the first inning when he walked Francisco Lindor on a borderline call. Rodon glared at the grass before collecting himself. He walked Edwin Encarnacion three batters later but escaped the jam with a strikeout.
Those were Rodon’s only two walks of the night.
“He’s throwing the ball very, very well,” manager Rick Renteria said. “Very focused. He’s having fun. He’s relaxed.”
Shields sees Rodon transforming into an elite pitcher. He often scrutinizes the game with his younger teammate.
“We talk a lot,” Shields said. “We’re on the bench in between starts, and he’s asking me stuff, I’m asking him stuff, and we just communicate. In certain situations, we may be on the bench and say, ‘What would you throw in this situation here?’ Things like that, just kind of getting us to think a little bit.”
Meanwhile, Narvaez purposely has avoided Rodon lately.
“Right now, I don’t even talk to him just because I don’t want to get him to overthink,” he said. “If I see him struggle, then I’ll talk to him.”