CHICAGO -- It was not how Carlos Rodon dreamed up his major league debut Tuesday, but despite a rough maiden voyage to the U.S. Cellular Field mound, what is not dashed are his hopes for a long and distinguished career.
Just because Rodon is the top prospect in the organization, doesn’t mean he has a handle on dealing with a swirl of emotions during one of the most intense moments of his life.
Sure, it probably didn’t help that he was brought in for his first White Sox outing in a high-leverage situation in the sixth inning, with two outs, runners on the corners and his team down by just a run to the Cleveland Indians.
But in bringing in the lifelong starter when they did, the White Sox were getting an up-close-and-personal look at how their left-hander’s blazing fastball and wipe-out slider would play amid pressure.
Well, it didn’t go the way the coaching staff planned, either, as Rodon immediately gave up a walk and a two-run single to the Indians’ Ryan Raburn, with both runs charged to starter Hector Noesi. An inning later Rodon gave up two runs of his own, while continuing to battle his nerves throughout.
“You know you’re probably getting him into the game,” manager Robin Ventura said. “Hector’s up there around 100 pitches, so [Rodon] came in, he was pretty amped up and couldn’t really get it going the way he wanted to and place it. But he’s up here for that reason, being able to come in and fill some innings.”
He filled 2 1/3 innings in all Tuesday, throwing 60 pitches and an alarmingly-low 29 strikes in a 6-2 loss.
“It’s something I have to be ready for, no excuses,” Rodon said afterward.
The White Sox have promised that Rodon will end up a starter eventually, but like Chris Sale and Mark Buehrle before him, he is getting his feet wet as a reliever. The White Sox know at this stage of his development, Rodon isn’t going to be able to start 30 times in a season and approach 200 innings, so they are using him in a relief role to get what they can out of him now.
“Ideally, yeah, you would like to see him [come in at the start of the inning], but that early in the game and where we’re at, it just felt like that was the opportunity for him to come in and do it,” Ventura said.
With some family and friends in the stands from North Carolina, Rodon was still able to achieve his dream of pitching in the major leagues, even if the result wasn’t what he was looking for. He gave up his two runs on three hits with three walks and a strikeout.
“Maybe I was overthrowing, but there are no excuses,” he said. “I just have to be good in that situation.”
Not only did pitching coach Don Cooper pay two visits to Rodon during his outing, catcher Tyler Flowers made his own separate visit.
“Yeah, that’s kind of what I was telling him, that this is such a small thing, you’re not going to remember this next week,” Flowers said. “Just try to forget about what has happened already, just get out of this inning and move on.”
Obviously the strikes weren’t there, but Rodon was able to show signs that he will be a handful down the road. Even on the two-run single, Rodon was able to break Raburn’s bat. And one batter later, he sawed off Lonnie Chisenhall’s bat while getting a ground out.
“He kept being aggressive,” Flowers said. “We tried to get ahead of guys, and even when we didn’t, we didn’t give up any hard-hit balls. That’s a compliment to the kind of stuff he has and once he settles down, he’s going to be a good addition.”
After throwing 60 pitches, Rodon figures to be on hold until another likely outing this weekend. Whether he picks up extended innings as a long man for the time being, or moves to a one-inning role remains to be seen.
“He composed himself after [his first inning],” Ventura said. “I think the adrenaline was running and you can’t fault him for that. He was probably excited, overthrowing, and he was a little more erratic than we’ve seen him in the past.”
With the kind of control issues Rodon displayed it probably wouldn’t have mattered if he debuted at the start of an inning, or came in with no outs and the bases loaded. But one plus is that his debut is out of the way, and he now knows what it feels like to be a reliever brought into a messy situation.
“I learned the process and how to get ready for it; that’s basically it,’ Rodon said. “After this one time, I understand what to do.”