Carlos Rodon’s no-hitter was breakthrough moment for Zack Collins, too

“You catch a no-hitter, that increases your cred real quick,” Sox catching instructor Jerry Narron said.

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Zack Collins walks to the dugout prior to a spring training baseball game against the Cleveland Indians Saturday, March 20, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

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BOSTON — When James McCann caught Lucas Giolito’s no-hitter last season for the White Sox, the roads they had traveled to that moment weren’t lost on either of them. Giolito had risen from maybe the worst starting pitcher in baseball in 2018, and McCann was redeeming himself as an All-Star catcher after the Tigers determined they had no use for him.

They fed off the “what they were” to what they would become. They worked in almost perfect harmony and made history together.

Fast forward to Wednesday, when Carlos Rodon pitched the second Sox no-hitter in nine months. His catcher was Zack Collins — like Rodon a Sox first-round draft pick who also had fought his own battles to reach that moment.

Viewed as a disciplined, power-hitting, left-handed bat, Collins also carried the reputation of being a big-bodied but subpar defensive catcher, an opinion shared by scouts and coaches. 

Working on his own and with newly hired major-league instructor Jerry Narron, a former manager and catcher who works with Sox catchers, Collins stepped up.

“He’s been very receptive to coaching and wanting to get better,” Narron told the Chicago Sun-Times on Friday.

A switch to catching with his right knee on the ground has been instrumental.

“He’s throwing the ball extremely well, and he’s able to block everything,” Narron said. “I’m not a guy who believes going to a knee is a panacea for the framing, and that’s part of the game he has to really improve on. But that’s going to come with time and experience.”

As for calling a game, Rodon didn’t shake Collins’ signs off once.

That led manager Tony La Russa’s former right-hand man, former pitching coach Dave Duncan, to pick up his phone.

“He observed that as great as Carlos was, the greatness behind the plate, the way Collins called the game and walked him through it was just as impressive,” La Russa said.

Collins had only previously caught Rodon in spring training.

“A lot of pitchers probably had a lot more confidence throwing to [No. 1 catcher Yasmani] Grandal and [veteran] Jonathan Lucroy, but I believe every one of our pitchers have confidence in Zack calling a game,” Narron said.

After Rodon’s gem, in which he threw 27 changeups and four first-pitch curveballs for strikes — underscoring his evolution from predominantly fastballs and sliders to a four-pitch mix — Collins called the game “a huge milestone for me.”

“There’s a ton of people who have said I would never catch in a big-league game,” he said. “I would just be a first baseman/DH. Just the work that I put in the last couple of years and the last six, seven years. . . . I feel extremely good behind the plate right now.”

Rodon is also feeling extremely good. After being non-tendered by the Sox in December and having bounced back from shoulder and elbow surgeries, he’s commanding a fastball that reaches upper-90s velocity when he needs it. That’s a big difference from the low-90s model he was throwing when he wasn’t right.

“Extreme respect for him,” Collins said. “Obviously grinding through his career. He was highly touted coming out of the draft and got up real quick and showed people he could do the job, and then he had a couple of injuries.”

Everyone has a story. Rodon dealt with health and doubters. Collins had his.

“For [Rodon] to battle back from a couple of different surgeries like he has and come back to us to show what he’s shown so far has been incredible,” Collins said.

For Collins, he’s separating himself from that tag of “hit-first catcher” and gaining respectability.

“You catch a no-hitter, that increases your cred real quick,” Narron said.

NOTES: Rain and snow caused the postponement of the Sox’ scheduled game against the Red Sox on Friday. The game will be made up as part of a split doubleheader Sunday at 4:10 p.m., after the regularly scheduled 12:10 game. Both will be seven innings.

• Right-hander Dylan Cease (COVID-19 symptoms) was reinstated from the injured list and will start Saturday. Righty reliever Zack Burdi was returned to Schaumburg. 

Dallas Keuchel will start one of the games Sunday, with the other starter still to be decided. Lucas Giolito will start Monday.

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