GLENDALE, Ariz. — This is a stepping-stone season for a lot of White Sox, Carlos Rodon included.
The 2014 No. 3 overall pick with top-tier stuff but a spotty health history can see a clear path to being the pitcher the Sox envisioned when they selected him one pick before Kyle Schwarber and four before Aaron Nola. The reason? Rodon is healthy, a year and a half removed from arthroscopic shoulder surgery. For two glorious months in 2018, he pitched like a staff ace.
He faded in September, badly, perhaps from elements of fatigue in the last segment of his recovery. But he came to camp feeling healthy, a new sensation for the 26-year-old lefty, and except for one pitch in his first outing, he’s looking sharp all over again.
‘‘It feels good,’’ Rodon said after breezing through four scoreless innings Thursday against the Brewers in his second start of the spring. ‘‘It feels healthy.’’
Rodon allowed a walk, a double by Jesus Aguilar and a hard-hit outfield out in the first inning, then zeroed in, retiring the last 10 batters he faced.
‘‘A little rocky in the first, but after that, we got on a roll and smoothed it out,’’ Rodon said.
It’s early, but there’s a lot to like about how Rodon looks this spring.
‘‘Happy, healthy and climbing is where he’s at,’’ manager Rick Renteria said.
The Sox need that. Rodon, infielders Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson and a handful of young bullpen arms are being counted on to step up in this rebuilding year. With a nice class of prospects behind them needing to advance, as well, the 20-something future pieces are leading the way.
‘‘At some point, we have to get better,’’ Renteria said. ‘‘It’s time to ask of yourselves a little more. That’s where we’re at. We’re in a place where we want more and should want more.’’
Anderson is having a lights-out spring — he’s 11-for-22 with five extra-base hits and six RBI and has played flawlessly at shortstop. Moncada, adapting to a new position at third base, hasn’t cut down his high strikeout rate (nine this spring), but when lots of K’s are accompanied by a .381 average and .480 on-base percentage, nobody will care too much.
Rodon, meanwhile, is the favorite to be the Opening Day starter March 28 against the Royals. He would seem to have the right demeanor to take on the role of rotation front man.
‘‘Now that he feels comfortable where he’s at physically and trusting the stuff he has, it’s very easy for us to see this guy wants to take the hill and pitch and compete,’’ Renteria said. ‘‘That’s what I look for in him.’’
Rodon seems intense, relaxed and confident all wrapped in one this spring, and why wouldn’t he? That summertime run in which he posted ERAs of 1.88 in July and 1.80 in August is still fresh in his mind. And he feels healthy, finally.
‘‘It feels normal,’’ he said.
This is an important year for one with high expectations for himself. The feeling is mutual from the Sox.
‘‘Every year is important, but this one definitely is coming off shoulder surgery and actually being healthy starting the year,’’ Rodon said after his outing.
Throwing 55 pitches, 38 for strikes, and showing more sliders — his premium pitch that complements a riding fastball nicely — Rodon said he’s looking to throw more changeups his next time out. Aside from that one bad pitch in his first game — a hanging slider hit for a three-run homer in a three-inning outing against the Rockies — he has been strong.
‘‘He seems very focused and very intent on starting out of the gate as well as he possibly can,’’ Renteria said.
‘‘Yeah,’’ Rodon said. ‘‘Just have something to prove.”