Rodón erases more demons with dominant start in KC

Lefty returns to site of nightmarish finish to '23 and pitches 7 brilliant innings

June 11th, 2024

KANSAS CITY -- ’s last trip to Kansas City had been gnawing at him for months.

So much so that when he looked at the schedule this season, he circled this four-game set in his mind, relishing the opportunity to get payback on the Royals.

On Monday night, Rodón did that and more, tossing seven innings of one-run ball to lead the Yankees to a 4-2 win over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium. The left-hander faced the minimum through four innings and didn’t allow a hit until the fifth, lowering his ERA to 2.93 with his seventh consecutive quality start.

Consider that 2023 start washed.

“I definitely knew this game was coming,” Rodón said. “It was circled on the calendar, and I wanted to show up and give my team the best chance to win after coming out of here last year with what happened and not pitching well. I definitely remembered that.”

Despite Rodón’s best efforts, he was unable to get his Sept. 29, 2023, start against Kansas City out of his mind. He allowed eight runs, left without recording an out and went into the offseason with a 6.85 ERA, the highest mark of his career in a season of three or more starts. It was during that start that a frustrated Rodón turned his back on pitching coach Matt Blake during a first-inning mound visit.

That taste lasted the entire offseason, but it has fueled Rodón’s 2024 campaign. In his past seven starts, he is 7-0 with a 2.28 ERA. He has tossed at least six innings in nine of his past 10 starts.

“Well, I tried to flush [last year’s Royals start] early on, but you know, it’s hard to get that one out of your head,” Rodón said. “It wasn’t just one start, it was a culmination of the whole ‘23 season that wasn’t so great. That definitely motivated me.”

For the Yankees, that motivation has brought out the pitcher they expected when they signed Rodón to a six-year, $162 million dollar contract during the 2022 offseason. He has now allowed three earned runs or fewer 13 times, which trails only the Orioles' Corbin Burnes (14).

“I thought he threw the ball really well,” manager Aaron Boone said. “He was in the strike zone; I think when we looked up there, it was 2-1 strikes. It looked like his stuff was good. … He made some big pitches the couple of times when they did pressure him there a little bit. But overall, I thought he threw the ball really well.”

Rodón, who entered with only two induced double plays this season, rolled a pair of twin killings during the two frames he actually allowed baserunners in the first six innings. It wasn’t until a two-out single in the seventh by Freddy Fermin that Kansas City scratched across a run. Rodón generated 14 whiffs despite just three strikeouts, and he got through seven innings in 103 pitches (74 strikes).

“He’s got a presence all over the strike zone,” Boone said. “His fastball up, he’s been getting it where he wants to. The slider has been good. We’ve seen him feature more and more of the changeup that’s become a real factor for him. I think just having a presence up in the strike zone, but also down and on both sides of the plate -- when you can do that, and have quality stuff, you have the chance to be successful, and that’s what we are seeing.”

And with Juan Soto’s return to the lineup as the designated hitter, the Yankees got what they needed immediately to spark a two-run rally in the first, which put New York ahead for good. Soto worked a full count before he singled and scored in his first at-bat. He later walked, reaching base twice after missing the past three games with left forearm inflammation.

Jose Trevino gave Rodón more insurance runs with a two-run single in the fourth. The Royals, who rallied from eight runs down Friday, couldn’t scratch anything off of Michael Tonkin, who recorded his first save of the season. The 34-year-old, who has been designated for assignment twice this season, not only closed the door on Rodón’s gem but returned the Yankees (47-21) to a season-high 26 games over .500.

“Offense showing up early, scoring some early runs made it easy to attack the zone,” Rodón said. “And then defensively, turned some double plays, made some great plays in the outfield. And then DJ [LeMahieu], heck of a play at first.

“Defensively they had my back, offensively they had my back. Trevy and I just went and just pitched and let everything else happen.”