The White Sox found out where they open the 2019 season Wednesday. They already had a pretty good idea who would start that game.
That would be Carlos Rodon, who might have started the 2018 opener in Kansas City had he been healthy. But now that he is — which he demonstrated for all to see for the eighth consecutive time in the Sox’ 7-3 victory against the Twins — it’s becoming clear that Rodon will enter 2019 as the staff ace.
With a 1.75 ERA in his last eight starts and a 5-3 record and 2.71 ERA overall, this is the pitcher the Sox envisioned when they drafted him third overall in 2014. Injuries have stalled the left-hander’s progress, but he has pitched like one of the best in the majors after having arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder last September.
“He has had some setbacks with injuries along the way, but when he’s healthy and out there every fifth day, he is real good,’’ acting manager Joe McEwing said. “As he continues to grow and mature and stay healthy, you’re going to see the best Carlos Rodon that we have.’’
Less than 24 hours after Michael Kopech revved up Guaranteed Rate Field like it hadn’t been all season with two scoreless innings and four strikeouts in his major-league debut, Rodon gave up a two-run homer to Jorge Polanco in the first inning in a much more sedate environment before a paid crowd of 15,160. He plowed through five scoreless innings after that, throwing only half of his 106 pitches for strikes but stringing five zeros.
“After that, it seemed like a pretty decent start,’’ Rodon said of the first inning. “They had some good at-bats, and they bit on some good sliders. Seemed like I got 0-2, and they’d work the count to full. I’d get an out but still making my pitch count go up.
“It was a battle today. Like I always say, give the team a chance to win.’’
Rodon struck out five, walked three, hit a batter and allowed three hits.
“Just knowing it’s going to show up, you’ve got to be patient sometimes,’’ Rodon said. “I’d like to get it started earlier and not have any of those blips early on and just cruise the game.’’
That Rodon wasn’t at his best but had another quality start shows how far he has come. In less than 24 hours, he and Kopech created the vision of a top-level 1-2 tandem at the top of the rotation for years to come.
Of course, the Sox had one in Chris Sale and Jose Quintana and couldn’t win, so there’s more work to be done, but it’s a start to building a rotation the Sox can plan ahead with.
“It’s extremely exciting,’’ McEwing said, “when you have pitchers with plus-plus stuff. If they’re having a tough outing, they can fight through it because of their stuff.’’
The Sox (48-78) have won six of eight and 11 of 19 and are 18-17 in their last 35 games. Former Sox pitcher Addison Reed, who pitched an inning for the Twins, said he never saw the Sox’ ballpark as electric as it was when Kopech pitched.
The Sox have a pulse, at least, and have enough pieces of their rebuild taking shape to believe in.
“It’s all clicking right now,’’ said Nicky Delmonico, who homered along with Tim Anderson (17th) and Adam Engel to power the Sox’ offense, which has put home runs on the board in 14 consecutive games.