White Sox name Carlos Rodon their Opening Day starter
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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Carlos Rodon was named the White Sox’ Opening Day starter Monday, 10 days before their first game of the season at Kansas City.
For Rodon, a big-bodied left-hander with a lively fastball and a nasty slider, it’s a nice first-time honor. He can take personal satisfaction in it after having battled various arm problems since the Sox selected him with the third overall pick of the 2014 draft.
‘‘It’s definitely been up-and-down for me,’’ Rodon said after getting the official word. ‘‘Last year and the year before, [it was] not so great being hurt and coming off of injury, off of surgery. I just proved that I’m good enough.’’
Rodon, 26, earned the nod by returning from shoulder surgery last June and pitching like an ace in July and August. He was 5-0 with a 1.84 ERA during that stretch. A dramatic fade in September — 0-5, 9.22 ERA — didn’t cost him the assignment he received Monday.
‘‘He has been looking very, very good,’’ Sox manager Rick Renteria said. ‘‘Solid, loose and confident. Let’s hope, knocking on wood here, [Rodon] is set up for a nice year.’’
Renteria wouldn’t disclose his rotation after Rodon, but a good bet would be right-handers Reynaldo Lopez, Ivan Nova and Lucas Giolito. Because the Sox have three scheduled days off in the first two weeks, they won’t need a fifth starter until April 10. Right-hander Ervin Santana should be more than ready by then.
‘‘All of us on the staff are pretty good,’’ Rodon said. ‘‘I am just the fortunate one.’’
Lopez was probably the runner-up in the Opening Day derby. In his first full major-league season after coming to the Sox in a trade with the Nationals in December 2016, Lopez went 7-10 with a 3.91 ERA in 188 2/3 innings and led the Sox in wins above replacement, according to Baseball-Reference.com. But Rodon was drafted and developed by the Sox, has been around longer and possesses, as first-year Sox catcher James McCann says, ‘‘Cy Young-type stuff.’’
McCann should know. He caught Cy Young winners Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and David Price with the Tigers.
Nova pitched the Pirates’ opener last season, but the Sox didn’t acquire him to be an ace. They want him to fill the innings-eating void left by right-hander James Shields, who started the 2018 opener because he was the only veteran in the rotation.
That Rodon enters 2019 at the top of the rotation in the third season of the Sox’ rebuild also speaks volumes about how far the rebuild has to go. Rodon, who is 26-29 with a 4.01 ERA in his career, still has a long way to climb — and the Sox’ rotation needs to climb with him — for the team to compete for championships every season, the stated goal of general manger Rick Hahn.
How far are they away? The Sox, who have finished fourth in the American League Central in each of the last five seasons, look like a middle-of-the-pack team at best in a winnable five-team division.
Having Rodon pitch like an Opening Day starter all season would go a long way toward distancing the Sox from the bottom-feeders. As the Opening Day pick, he joins a recent Sox list that also features former teammates Chris Sale, Jeff Samardzija, Jose Quintana and Shields.
‘‘Those guys are pretty good,’’ Rodon said. ‘‘I wouldn’t say I compare to Chris Sale and Jose Quintana. Me taking the ball on Game 1 doesn’t make me those guys. But, like I said, it’s an honor to take the ball that day. I’m just ready to compete.’’