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Rodon can't match Snell as Sox drop opener

Relying on slider, lefty recovers from early command issues to fan 9
@scottmerkin
April 8, 2019

CHICAGO – The thought of facing Tampa Bay’s Blake Snell, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, didn’t add any extra emphasis into Monday’s start for White Sox lefty Carlos Rodón. “Nah, it's just another day,” said Rodon after falling to 1-2 on the season in a 5-1 loss

CHICAGO – The thought of facing Tampa Bay’s Blake Snell, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, didn’t add any extra emphasis into Monday’s start for White Sox lefty Carlos Rodón.

“Nah, it's just another day,” said Rodon after falling to 1-2 on the season in a 5-1 loss at Guaranteed Rate Field. “He's pretty good.

“You guys saw it today. He's got a nice breaking ball and a heavy fastball complementing each other, and he's got a changeup and slider to back it up. A guy like that, you've got to be on your game. … I just wish I would have competed a little better today.”

This pitching matchup of staff No. 1s figured to be a low-scoring battle, but that script was altered in the first two innings by a lack of fastball command for Rodon. Nine Rays hitters reached base safely in those two frames, as Rodon’s pitch count rose to 65 after a 39-pitch first.

To Rodon’s credit, he limited Tampa Bay to four runs in the first two innings and found his stuff in the third. He exited after 4 2/3 innings and 111 pitches, striking out nine but also walking five and allowing eight hits.

Snell countered with 11 strikeouts over six sharp innings, serving up only Jose Rondon’s solo home run in the fifth.

White Sox manager Rick Renteria noticed a slight change in Rodon’s delivery between the second and third, something Renteria talked about in-game with pitching coach Don Cooper, who shared the knowledge with Rodon.

“[Cooper] was talking to him throughout the ballgame, and you could literally see the difference when he was doing a nice, clean back-to-front motion that Coop always talks about,” Renteria said. “He continued to try to get him through it, but obviously we got him pretty deep in his pitch count. We needed to try to help our bullpen out a little bit.”

“Rodon is tough,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “[Hitting coach] Chad Mottola made reference right when the game started that last year was the same thing that he kind of came out of the gate, didn’t have all of his command or as sharp as he would’ve liked and then after that, he went on cruise control and kind of carved against us. Somewhat similar today in the fact that we got him the first two innings, the pitch count got driven up, but he got in a good rhythm where he was getting guys with the fastball, slider combination, and that made it challenging.”

Nine strikeouts was an encouraging total for Rodon, who has a team-high 24 strikeouts in 16 innings to go with a 3.38 ERA over three starts. He recorded 20 swinging strikes Monday per Statcast, with 16 coming among his 54 sliders.

That slider total isn’t optimal for Rodon, although his pitch is among baseball’s elite. But that pitch was the most effective Monday, with six of his strikeouts coming on the slider.

“Today we probably threw more sliders, but that's what was working, and we had to go to it,” Rodon said. “In the future, in the near future, it's going to be more fastballs and mix in some changeups in the repertoire.

“Later in the game, it seems like there was a lot of swing-and-miss, but I'd like to have that fastball going in the strike zone more often. Just falling behind hitters, not establishing the strike zone, that's how you get yourself hurt. I put the damage on myself out there walking five today.”

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin and Facebook and listen to his podcast.