Carlos Rodón's professional baseball journey has taken him back to the White Sox starting rotation, a familiar spot since his 2015 Major League debut on Chicago’s South Side.
That news became official postgame Monday, when the White Sox optioned Reynaldo López to the team’s alternate training site. Rodón clearly earned the nod with 10 strikeouts over nine scoreless innings during three Cactus League appearances (two starts). He also has made changes in his mechanics to clean up his lower half, giving him hope for sustained success and durability under the watchful eye of first-year pitching coach Ethan Katz.
“Granted, right now, it’s a small sample size, but we are hoping it translates into the regular season,” said Rodón during a Tuesday Zoom. “I think a lot of that has made me more consistent with my fastball and my command of all my pitches.
“My mechanics have cleaned up a lot and taken a lot of stress off my body as a whole. It’s less stress on my arm the way I’m throwing now than I was before, because I utilize my lower half better. It just takes that energy, or that stress, out of my arm. I feel confident that it can carry me through a whole season.”
Rodón’s issue never has been about stuff, featuring a fastball with the ability to reach the high 90s and one of the better sliders in the game when he’s right. The 28-year-old simply has not been able to stay healthy, having yet to make 30 starts in a single season and having thrown under 70 innings in 2017 and '19 and just 7 2/3 innings in '20.
Left shoulder soreness plagued Rodón in the abbreviated 2020 season, preceded by Tommy John surgery on May 15, 2019, after he received the Opening Day call in that particular campaign. Rodón had shoulder surgery at the end of ’17.
“I don’t like being hurt at all,” Rodón said. “As the player that’s hurt, no one takes it the hardest but us. And no one is more frustrated than ourselves.
“So, seeing some success, although it’s Spring Training, seeing I can make some starts, it’s nice. Like I’ve said before, ready for the regular season to begin and show that I can be durable.”
Lucas Giolito, making his second straight Opening Day start, Dallas Keuchel, Lance Lynn and Dylan Cease represent the rotation in front of Rodón. The absence of López is not a surprise, with the right-hander having struggled the past two seasons and then not having a great current Cactus League run.
Not having López as a part of the 26-man roster breaking camp is a bit more surprising. Manager Tony La Russa admitted they thought about López as a long reliever, but that role wasn’t best suited for him or the White Sox.
“We just think there’s going to be a priority on protection starters, and it’s much better that Reynaldo is stretching out,” La Russa said. “If we need him, he can come up and throw 100-something pitches. Better use for his talents and our needs. In most cases like Reynaldo, what he needs are extended innings. And the innings are not there.
“It’s the time in the spring where, right now, the priority has gone to Carlos, and the other guys are taking innings and you have a bunch of relievers that are going to get the rest of it. So, that was true for several guys that we sent out. To keep them in shape, they are better off going down and working regularly and getting extended.”
López handled the disappointing news well, per La Russa, with the manager adding López knows how close he is to contributing again at the big league level. But the fifth-starter’s title belongs to Rodón, who was non-tendered this offseason and then brought back as a free agent on a one-year, $3 million deal.
Rodón stayed with the team that selected him third overall in the 2014 MLB Draft, and the team with which he made his first career appearance in relief on April 21, 2015, as opposed to opting for a fresh start.
“You’ve heard the stories of guys, they have been in an organization so long and then they go somewhere else and then they blossom,” Rodón said. “For me, it was just the comfort of coming back to this team, knowing my teammates, knowing the staff and knowing that we are probably going to win a lot. Those weighed heavy in my decision.
“There’s been some adversity. Granted, a lot of people have dealt with a lot more adversity than just being hurt in a game that pays you a lot of money to put that into perspective. It’s been a journey, and it’s been fun. There’s been ups and downs, but it’s been fun.”