SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Left-hander Carlos Rodon is feeling healthy again. If he stays healthy and pitches the way he has this spring, bringing him back on a one-year, $3 million deal could turn out to be general manager Rick Hahn’s best bang-for-the-buck signing of the offseason.
Monitoring workloads, pitch counts and health in a full season after last season’s abbreviated 60-game slate is priority No. 1 for first-year pitching coach Ethan Katz. He likes what he has seen from Rodon this spring, and it started in the training room during the offseason.
“We really put together a customized program for him,” Katz told the Chicago Sun-Times. “He’s really enjoying it from the work, delivery standpoint, in the training room, with the medical staff, strength coaches, to upping his intensity mentally in bullpens.
“We’re challenging him, and he’s been really receptive to everything. It’s working well for him and showing up in his outings. We’re trying to give him different outlooks of what he might have been in the past, how we can help him stay healthy and stay on the field.”
On Sunday, Rodon pitched four scoreless innings of one-hit ball. He was efficient with his pitches, threw all of them for strikes and remained unscored on this spring.
“It makes it a lot easier when you feel good,” Rodon said. “Granted there are days you aren’t as good as the other, but when you know you’re healthy, you can get that work done. You can get focused, concentrated work done. That builds up over an offseason; that builds up over a spring training.”
There are methods to keep pitchers like Rodon strong, but a six-man rotation won’t be one of them for the Sox.
“No. We don’t want Lucas Giolito pitching every sixth day,” Katz said.
Or Dallas Keuchel or Lance Lynn or any of the others, for that matter.
“If a guy says he needs a break, we find ways to do it, whether we spot-start at that point to give him a break,” Katz said, “but the thing is, if you go six-man rotation as some teams are, then you also are putting possible problems into the following year because now they’re getting used to a longer break. There are pros and cons; you have to find breaks in the season. I’ve talked to our starters to do what we can do to find ways to give them some rest and take care of them a little more so they can be ready to go every fifth day.”
Changes aimed at keeping Rodon healthy as he reboots after shoulder and elbow surgeries include fixes in his lower half in his delivery. He’s throwing across his body to a lesser degree now, taking stress off the arm, and a strength-and-conditioning plan is in place.
The plan is for Rodon to throw every fifth day, but innings limits could come into play, and with the others coming off seasons in which Sox starters made no more than 12 starts and threw no more than 72 innings (Giolito), it’s not known how that will affect their durability in 2021.
“The main thing is, nobody knows,” Katz said. “We’re going into uncharted territory, for sure. The biggest responsibility of pitching coaches is knowing what their body’s doing, seeing when their strength declines and be on top of that. And being on top of their routines to make sure they are getting enough rest, whether it’s taking a day off from throwing or having a bullpen of 25 pitches instead of 35.
“There are ways to manipulate things to keep them going and also get them out of a game when we have a big lead. Up 10 runs and say we’re in the fifth inning, if the bullpen is ready to go, why push them in certain situations. There are a bunch of different thoughts on how to do that, but hopefully they do get 200 innings. That means they’re hitting those marks late in the playoffs.”