Rodon’s gem a study in perseverance
CHICAGO — Shortly after throwing a no-hitter against the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday night on the South Side, Chicago White Sox left-hander Carlos Rodon was asked what’s left to prove.
Doubts over Rodon’s career had been lingering for years because of shoulder and elbow injuries that led to surgeries and long bouts of rehab. He was touted as a future ace in a rotation that included Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Jeff Samardzija, but after so many false starts the question was whether he ever would become the pitcher everyone thought he’d be.
“Second start of the year, it’s going to be hard to top this one,” Rodon said. “Lance Lynn said it a couple days ago, when he threw that [complete-game] shutout. He goes: ‘Baseball gives you 24 hours.’
“And then what’s-his-name from San Diego [Joe Musgrove] threw that no-hitter. And then I come up and throw the no-hitter. Baseball’s pretty humbling. It’s that quick. It’ll eat you up, spit you out. And sometimes it’ll reward you.
“It’s the same mentality I have to have. I’ve got [another start] five days from now. Obviously I’m going to enjoy the moment. But tomorrow, work starts all over, because there’s quite a few more starts to go.”
Musgrove tossed the season’s first no-hitter — and the first in San Diego Padres history — last week against the Texas Rangers. Before Wednesday night, Rodon also could have been considered a “what’s-his-name” by some fans outside Chicago. His career was one of unfulfilled promise after becoming the third pick in the 2014 draft and winning 18 games in his first two seasons on the South Side in 2015-16.
After being non-tendered by the Sox and re-signing for a one-year, $3 million deal, Rodon won a starting job with a 1.34 ERA in spring training. He threw five shutout innings in his first start April 5 in Seattle, allowing only two Mariners hits with nine strikeouts in a 6-0 win.
When Rodon woke up feeling sick Monday before his scheduled start against Cleveland, Dallas Keuchel (Arkansas Razorbacks) took the ball on short notice and pitched five innings to help the Sox to a series-opening win. That gave Rodon a chance to get his feet back under him and be at full strength for Wednesday’s start.
Rodon credited Keuchel afterward for his contribution to the no-hitter.
The covid-19 shutdown gave Rodon more time to rehab his arm last summer, but when he came up in late September he was used sparingly, leading to the decision to non-tender him. Manager Tony La Russa credited the Sox organization for bringing Rodon back when it easily could have cut the cord and moved on with their wealth of young arms.
“Carlos was a guy that was a very tough call for them,” La Russa said. “We have a wealth of young pitchers, and they had to make a decision on rosters. But right away they engaged in conversations. They were a lot of persuasive points for us. We know him and we assured him. … He was assured he would compete for a starting spot, which is what he wanted.
“I knew about it and was excited to get him, but I didn’t work with him. I just reaped the benefits.”
Instead of being saddled with great expectations, there were no expectations on Rodon to start the season. He no longer was an ace-inwaiting but a back-of-the-rotation starter whose contributions would be a bonus if he just averaged five innings an outing and made 20-plus starts.
If there were any questions about his health, Rodon answered them Wednesday. He even threw a 99-mph pitch in the ninth inning after 113 pitches, proving he finally was back to his old self.
The smile was back, and so was Rodon.
All the hard work finally paid off, and it was time to exhale to get ready for the next start.
Sometimes the game eats you up and spits you out.
And sometimes it rewards you.