CHICAGO -- The goal for Carlos Rodón was very simple after agreeing to a one-year, $3 million free agent deal to return to the White Sox before the start of this past Spring Training after being non-tendered in December.
It wasn’t about becoming an All-Star, which Rodón is for the first time in his career, as voted in via the Players Ballot. It wasn’t about winning the Cy Young, which Rodón is a strong candidate for with three games until the All-Star break.
His focus was as basic as pitching regularly.
“I just wanted to step on the mound and show that I could pitch every five days,” Rodón told MLB.com during a recent interview. “So it was one step at a time, one foot in front of the other kind of thing.
“Just check off the boxes and earn a spot in the rotation. From there, I just kind of ran with it.”
Rodón has run with his elite first-half effort right to Coors Field in Colorado, where he will be a candidate with teammate Lance Lynn to start for the AL All-Stars on Tuesday. Rodón’s 2021 numbers are befitting of a pitcher with the talent pedigree to be selected third overall by the White Sox in the 2014 Draft.
Through 15 starts in ‘21, Rodón has a 7-3 record with a 2.31 ERA. The southpaw has 130 strikeouts over 89 2/3 innings with just 26 walks and 60 hits allowed. Rodón ranks third in ERA, tied for second in strikeouts, second in WHIP (0.96) and second in average against (.186). He no-hit Cleveland on April 14 and has allowed two hits or fewer in six starts.
Yet Rodón doesn’t revel in his lofty results. He features a focus similar to his manager, Tony La Russa, in that day by day and the next start on the docket become the most important goals.
Often after impressive mound work -- such as his victorious six-inning effort on Tuesday at Target Field -- Rodón jokes about trying to figure out what he’s going to have for dinner when asked to look into the future.
“That’s the answer you are going to get out of me most of the time,” said Rodón of that sharpened focus. “It’s the mindset you have to have for this game: 162 games. It’s a marathon. It’s not a sprint, that’s for sure.
“I just have a lot more confidence. There’s still a lot of work to be done.”
La Russa didn’t know enough about Rodón upon arrival to predict this vast success. He understood the 28-year-old has dealt with shoulder surgery, Tommy John surgery and three seasons in his first six in which he made fewer than 20 starts. Rodón threw 42 1/3 innings combined from 2019-20.
But La Russa saw Rodón’s work put in with pitching coach Ethan Katz. He viewed the maturation. He has watched Rodón dial up his fastball to 100 mph with great command across the zone to escape tough situations late in games. Rodón’s four-seamer, paired with a wipeout slider, ranks first of any pitch type this season with a -22 run value per Statcast. In La Russa’s mind, it’s only just begun for Rodón.
“It's really hard to be good, but the hardest is to be good for a long time,” La Russa said. “Everything that Carlos is doing now, you keep doing it, getting better and better and better, and never kind of just go, ‘Hey man, look what I did.’
“He's been outstanding, and from what I know about him and watching him, he's got the eye of the tiger and he wants it real bad. So I'd bet on him.”
There’s a desire for the southpaw to finish what he’s started as an individual and as part of the White Sox pursuit of a World Series championship. It’s much better playing for a winning team and to play as completely healthy and dominant for that winner.
“I’ve had every view you can think of,” Rodón said. “Going from shoulder to elbow, ‘Why the hell does this keep happening to me?’ But that’s definitely not the way to go about it. You are just going to keep spiraling down deeper in that hole.
“Anybody at 22 is pretty young and their mind is not exactly as developed as a 28- or 30-year-old. I grew up a little faster, getting here quick. The injuries gave me a lot of time to think about, grow mentally would be the best way to put it. It was all inclusive. Nobody wants to get hurt, but I learned a lot from sitting here on the bench and watching everyone else play when I had to twiddle my thumbs.”