Carlos Rodon strikes out career-high 12 in White Sox’ 3-1 victory over Tigers

Leury Garcia drove in the go-ahead run with a single as the White Sox took Game 1 of the doubleheader.

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Carlos Rodon of the Chicago White Sox pitches in the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at Guaranteed Rate Field on April 29, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)

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The Carlos Rodon rejuvenation crusade, raging through the end of April, has lived to see another month.

The White Sox’ recharged left-hander improved to 4-0 in as many starts, striking out a career-high 12 batters while allowing two hits in six innings of one-run ball in a 3-1 win against the Tigers and made club history in the process. His 36 strikeouts in a four-game span are the most with a sub-0.80 ERA by a White Sox pitcher.

Adding another gem to the no-hitter he pitched against the Indians on April 14 to his sparkling April resume, Rodon has allowed just seven hits. His ERA is 0.72 going into his next start in Cincinnati next week.

And to think the Sox debated whether to bring him back this season after declining to tender a contract. When they did bring Rodon back, it was for the purpose of making him their fifth starter.

Now he is pitching like the ace he profiled to be when the Sox drafted him third overall in 2014, no easy feat in a rotation that also features Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Lance Lynn and Dylan Cease, who pitched a masterful seven-inning shutout against the Tigers in Game 2.

After watching Rodon — now healthy after overcoming elbow and shoulder surgeries — dominate the Tigers, manager Tony La Russa recalled “painstaking” offseason discussions with vice president Ken Williams, general manager Rick Hahn and assistant GM Jeremy Haber about Rodon, who struggled last season.

“They were weighing the roster thing,” La Russa said. “They felt they had to [non-tender him]. And the hope all along was, ‘Maybe we can get him back.’ And we were all thrilled [when he re-signed].”

They are thrilled even more now.

“Just look at what he can be when he’s healthy,” La Russa said. “I’ve seen him when he’s healthy, you all have, and he’s not one of those back-of-the-rotation starters. He’s done a lot of good things out there.”

Pitching at home for the first time since the no-hitter, Rodon did not allow a baserunner until the fourth inning and was nicked only by Jonathan Schoop’s RBI double down the third base line with two outs in the fourth. Rodon varied speeds on all of his pitches, got 23 swinging strikes and struck out seven of the first nine batters he faced, including five in a row.

“There’s times I’ll reach back in certain situations, there’s times I’ll throw sliders harder,” Rodon said. “It depends on the count and who’s on base and what the situation is.”

Once primarily a fastball-slider pitcher, Rodon’s arsenal is expanding with a trustworthy changeup. He’s flipping curveballs in for strikes, too.

“Being the third pitch, I think it’s pretty good, maybe hopefully getting to elite here with it,” he said of the changeup. “It gets early outs and it gets some swings and misses. It gets them off heaters, it gets them off sliders. It makes it a little harder when you throw three pitches that are pretty good.”

In a seven-inning Game 1, Tigers right-hander Casey Mize held the Sox scoreless until center fielder Billy Hamilton’s RBI groundout and Leury Garcia’s two-run single in the fifth. First baseman Jake Lamb singled and catcher Zack Collins and left fielder Andrew Vaughn walked to load the bases to start the inning. Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera had a chance to force out Lamb at home on Hamilton’s ground ball, but he bobbled the ball and settled for an out at first. Garcia, who drove in a run with a single as the Sox opened a 4-0 lead in the second inning of Game 2, then broke the tie.

It was all Rodon, who walked one, needed for support. After throwing 96 pitches, 66 for strikes, he yielded to closer Liam Hendriks, who pitched a perfect seventh for his fifth save.

“There’s been a pattern whenever he starts, by the time he gets to the finish, he’s added three, four miles an hour,” La Russa said. “Which is good when hitters are seeing one thing and they see something [different] later.

“You can’t say enough good things, except remind him there’s a lot [of season] ahead.”

Next stop, May.

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