SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Left-hander Carlos Rodon would’ve liked pitching at Scottsdale Stadium on Monday — nice crowd, sunny afternoon, competitive environment in a Cactus League game against the Giants.
But the leading contender to start for the White Sox on Opening Day got his work in on the back fields at Camelback Ranch in the morning. And that was fine, too.
“Good, smooth,’’ Rodon said, sizing up his 40-pitch workday with new Sox catcher James McCann against hitters such as Jose Rondon and prospect Joel Booker. “Working on locating. Just getting back into it, man. Gradually getting into it.’’
Pitching coach Don Cooper often prefers the back-field, sim-game environment for starters to Cactus League games early in camp. Pitchers do, as well, to work on specifics.
Besides, there’s plenty of time to get ready for the season opener, which Rodon likely will work.
“Front-hip, two-seam [fastball], front-hip slider to lefties, backdoor two-seamers,’’ Rodon said, rattling off the areas of focus. “Some weakness stuff I’m not the greatest at. Refine that and get it ready for the season.’’
McCann is getting to know Sox pitchers, and he is developing a rapport with Rodon. While warming him up, McCann said, “You’re an ace, man. I think you should have a routine.’’
Rodon said being called an ace was “pretty cool. I just want to prove it.”
As the Sox are lined up on throwing schedules — whether in sim games or Cactus League games — the rotation Cooper and manager Rick Renteria have in mind looks like Rodon, Ivan Nova, Reynaldo Lopez, Lucas Giolito and whoever emerges as the fifth starter. The fifth spot would seem to be Ervin Santana’s to lose, with left-hander Manny Banuelos — who is out of options and was cited by general manager Rick Hahn as a strong contender before the Santana signing — also in the mix, if needed.
James McCann (left) and Carlos Rodon talk pitching after Rodon’s sim game.
Four K’s for Banuelos
Banuelos grooved a pitch to Yangervis Solarte and paid for it — a first-inning home run — but did not allow any more damage and struck out four Giants in two innings.
Facing a lineup of mostly prospects, the 28-year-old former top Yankees prospect, topping out at 92-93 mph, struck out all three batters he faced in the second inning.
Santana’s presence might squeeze him out, but it’s early in camp, and he could have value as a long reliever or spot starter.
“Honestly, I don’t think about that stuff, about who the team signs,’’ Banuelos said. “I know what the team is trying to do is put us in a better position to win and compete. I just try to control the things I can control. I don’t have anything to be concerned about right now.’’
The Sox acquired Banuelos in an offseason trade with the Dodgers after he had a 3.73 ERA with 127 strikeouts in 108⅔ innings for Class AAA Oklahoma City last season.
Daniel Palka, who left the game Sunday with a tight hamstring, will probably miss a game or two, he said. Palka said not being hydrated was the cause.
“It was double-cramping up on both sides of my leg,’’ Palka said. “Like I said yesterday, it’s my fault.”