Weight down, velo up: Rodón primed for bounceback

February 17th, 2024

TAMPA, Fla. -- couldn’t wait to put his disastrous 2023 season in the rearview mirror. As the last outs of the Yankees’ campaign ticked down in Kansas City last fall, the left-hander’s bags were packed, already plotting the highway escape route he’d use to clear his mind.

His final outing had been nothing short of awful, trudging to the visitors’ clubhouse unable to retire any of the eight Royals he faced on Sept. 29. With his club trailing early, Rodón had no choice but to sit and stew -- that evening and for the next two games until the schedule mercifully ended.

“I just got in the car and drove away,” Rodón said. “I left it there at Kauffman Stadium. That’s a pretty crappy way to end the season, for sure. I was hurt and I wasn’t very good, and I know that. There were a lot of things that I could have been better at.”

Though Rodón said that he doesn’t spend much time revisiting that awful start in Kansas City, there was some clean-up to perform. Rodón noticeably turned his back on pitching coach Matt Blake during a mound visit, an act for which the hurler would later apologize; Blake, who accepted, said he and Rodón are fine.

“I’m an emotional pitcher,” Rodón said. “It can take me to the highest highs and to the lowest lows, and I’ve been to both. I know both sides, and I don’t like the lowest lows, I’ll tell you that.”

Cruising out of the greater Kansas City area with his cousin, Ethan, there was no hurry to rejoin civilization. Rodón said they spent a few weeks at a cabin, gradually flushing the bitter flavor of his first Yankees season.

They had no reason to recite the numbers, ugly as they were: a 3-8 record and a 6.85 ERA in 14 starts. Nor was there discussion of his physical maladies, which included injuries to his left forearm, back and left hamstring. Rodón knew he must be in a better place, mentally and physically, before returning home to Indiana for the offseason.

“We just had a good time; just hung out and enjoyed the outdoors,” Rodón said.

The returns on Rodón’s winter work have been the talk of camp. He prioritized cleaner eating during the offseason, appearing noticeably trimmer after being listed at 255 pounds last year. Rodón joked that his improved conditioning might be a result of spending months chasing three kids around.

But there is no fooling about this: Rodón’s velocity has jumped. He reported to the Yankees’ complex in early January, which Blake called “a huge gesture to the organization that he wants to move beyond 2023.”

“From where he is right now to 12 months ago, it’s night and day,” manager Aaron Boone said. “He’s just in a way better place. He had the offseason and the winter that he needed to have to give himself the best chance to be successful. He’s checked that first box.”

Added general manager Brian Cashman: “I’m really pleased with the position he’s put himself in. It just goes to show you that he’s coming after it hard and wants it bad.”

During a live batting practice session this week, Rodón’s fastball sat between 94-95 mph, touching 97 mph. Nestor Cortes, who was in the dugout for that outing, said that Rodón looks “really, really sharp.” The velocity represents a significant increase from the 88s and 90s that Rodón was showing at this time last year.

“Last year, my move was a little wonky down the mound,” Rodón said. “I was trying to find it the whole year. I want to hold that, keep how I move on the mound in my brain. I just don’t want to forget it. I’m always thinking about it.”

Said Blake: “He’s just doing it in a much more athletic way, and a little more efficiently.”

That raises the Yankees’ confidence that Rodón can handcuff batters as he did in 2021-22 for the White Sox and Giants, when he earned back-to-back All-Star selections and registered down-ballot Cy Young Award votes.

“I expect him to handle his business like a pro, like he is,” said ace Gerrit Cole. “He's a fierce competitor. I think we will all be thrilled if he could return back to that peak form, but with that said, we can win a lot of games if he's just out there competing for us.”

Rodón tossed a career-high 178 innings for San Francisco in 2022, a topic that Boone has hammered at, reminding Rodón: “If you’re in a position to handle 25-30 starts, we’re going to be in a much better spot.”

“For me, a realistic goal is just to make every start. The numbers will pile up and take care of themselves,” Rodón said. “I just need to stay on the field.”