Rodon strikes out 11 in four innings but runs out of ammo
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This was White Sox left-hander Carlos Rodon at his best and worst, 98 pitches and four innings of swings-and-misses and misses of his own above, below and around the strike zone.
‘‘That’s a lot of pitches to throw in a short period of time,’’ Sox manager Rick Renteria said.
Rodon, who was making his fifth start since coming off a biceps injury in his pitching arm, showed Tuesday at Wrigley Field why he has the potential to be a top-of-the-rotation starter for years to come. He also showed why he promises to be a heavy burden on bullpens for years to come if he doesn’t figure out a way to harness all his stuff.
To wit: Rodon gave up a double to Ben Zobrist, a walk to Anthony Rizzo and a three-run home run to Willson Contreras in the first inning of the Cubs’ 7-2 victory. He also struck out the side, fanning Kris Bryant, Ian Happ and Albert Almora Jr.
In the second, Rodon allowed a run on doubles by Addison Russell and Zobrist around a five-pitch walk to pitcher John Lackey. He also struck out Javy Baez, Bryant and Rizzo.
In the Cubs’ third, Contreras and Happ singled to start the inning before Rodon retired Almora on a short fly to right and struck out Baez and Russell.
And in the fourth, Rodon worked around a walk and a single by striking out the side. With a pitch count approaching 100, his day was done. Eleven of his 12 outs were strikeouts.
‘‘We’re trying to go back to where the success was at the end of last season,’’ said Rodon, who was 7-3 with a 3.45 ERA in the second half of 2016. ‘‘As you see, the command is not there.’’
Say this for Rodon: He became the first pitcher dating at least to 1913 to strike out 11 batters in an outing of four innings or fewer. He also joined some elite company in becoming one of only seven pitchers since 1974 to strike out 11 in the first four innings, joining Max Scherzer, Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, Zack Greinke, Randy Johnson (twice) and Nolan Ryan.
That’s quite a prestigious list. But throwing 58 strikes and 40 balls in four innings isn’t championship-caliber pitching, which is what the Sox’ front office is striving to develop during the team’s rebuild.
The good news is that Rodon feels healthy.
‘‘The stuff is there,’’ he said. ‘‘I’ve punched out 11 before but . . . through seven [innings]. Just have to try to get them to put the ball in play, make them swing the bat. Right now, you can see they’re up there taking the first strike to make me throw pitches. That’s two games in a row where I’m at 60 pitches in two innings. It’s tough to go deep in a game for your team when that is happening.’’
Rodon’s final line showed four runs, seven hits, three walks and 11 strikeouts in four innings. His ERA rose to 6.29, and he continues to grasp at what the issue is. It’s not a matter of finding the right arm slot, he said.
‘‘Who knows? It’s something we have to figure out,’’ Rodon said. ‘‘Those last two innings, it seemed like it was coming back to me, but it was coming back late. It could be rhythm and tempo and things like that.’’
While he was in the game, Rodon collected his first major-league hit, a well-hit double against Lackey that bounced to the wall in right-center field in the second and drove in the Sox’ only two runs.
‘‘I was so ticked off about [the first inning], I was swinging as hard as I could,’’ Rodon said.
Follow me on Twitter @CST_soxvan.