Chicago White Sox

Aggressive Carlos Rodon eyes status as 'top-tier' pitcher

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USA TODAY

Aggressive Carlos Rodon eyes status as 'top-tier' pitcher

Carlos Rodon has graduated from a “belittling” stretch where hitters dared him to throw strikes to one of the most dominant periods of his career.

Including his most recent start, Rodon has faced 81 consecutive batters without issuing a walk, the longest stretch in his three seasons. Though he has resembled an ace the past three starts Rodon said on Friday that he’s only looking ahead. Of course, Rodon sees the positives from outings like Thursday and wants to build off them. But he also figures that moving forward is exactly what he needs to do to achieve his goal of evolving into a front-of-the-rotation starting pitcher.

“I want to be in the top tier,” Rodon said. “I want to be a guy like Sale, like Scherzer, like Kershaw, like Bumgarner, like Verlander, all those guys. I’ve still got a way to go. Those guys are very good. They do it every night. They might have a mishap once a year, two times a year and every other start is six innings or more. I’ve still got a way to go to get there.”

Rodon is definitely headed in the right direction.

The left-hander has a 2.01 ERA with 24 strikeouts and only two walks in 22 1/3 innings over his last three starts, all of which came against first-place clubs.

It’s quite the turnaround from Rodon’s slow start after he returned from a three-month trip to the disabled list with bursitis in his left shoulder. While Rodon flashed ability at times -- he struck out 10 at Oakland on July 3 and 11 against the Cubs on July 25 -- he also was inconsistent and frustrated. One point that frustrated Rodon often was his inability to throw strikes when he wanted to.

“It’s very frustrating,” Rodon said last month. “Seventy percent strikes (at Oakland) and then the next two games you’re out there and you’re at 70 pitches in three innings, like ‘What the hell happened?’

“They’re laying off sliders. You’re 2-1 every time. You’re fighting back. It’s 3-0, 3-2 count and then you’re getting back into even counts, but obviously a lot of times, hitter’s counts as well. The pitches are just going up. They’re not swinging, they’re taking. They’re going to make you throw strikes, which is frustrating. It’s almost belittling sometimes.”

Rodon and pitching coach Don Cooper have worked on several aspects over the last few weeks in the bullpen. While their primary focus has always been fastball command -- Rodon said the message is the same as it has always been -- Cooper has stressed to Rodon he needs to stay upbeat during any down periods.

“It’s easy to get down,” Cooper said in late July. “Wins are hard to come by. But I’m not going to walk around mired in negativity or being down or being disappointed because we’re not winning games. As much as we come wanting to win games, we’re still going to do that. I’m going to be focused on what we can accomplish.

“He wants to be one of the best. What’s the common denominators for being one of the best? That’s what we’re searching for and trying to get after. The top guys, they throw first-pitch strikes. The batting average is down after you throw one strike. You throw two and it goes down a little more. We saw the other day that when he gets ahead he kills. Certainly, that’s going to be the goal.”

Recently, Rodon has collected multiple samples of what happens when he gets ahead. On Thursday, Houston Astros hitters took an aggressive approach knowing Rodon was attacking the zone at will. Rodon threw strikes on 70 of 98 pitches. He threw only four pitches in the eighth inning because Houston swung early -- and Avisail Garcia ended the inning with an outfield assist.

But either way, Rodon knows how he’d like to move forward.

“You can see it,” Rodon said. “They’re more aggressive now, swinging early.

“The more I’m in the zone, the more aggressive they’re going to be and that can work into my favor, but also could play into their hand as well because they’re swinging the bat.

“Just stick to the positives and positive things are going to happen. Look for the good in everything and go from there.”

Joining Hall-of-Fame company the latest feat for Jose Abreu, White Sox model of consistency

Joining Hall-of-Fame company the latest feat for Jose Abreu, White Sox model of consistency

Just how valuable is Jose Abreu to the White Sox?

Well, whenever you join Albert Pujols and Joe DiMaggio as the only baseball players ever to do something, you must be pretty darn valuable.

Abreu joined that elite company Saturday night, driving in both runs in the White Sox forgettable 8-2 loss to the visiting Kansas City Royals. Those RBIs brought his total to 100 on the season, making him the third major leaguer ever to hit at least 25 homers and drive in at least 100 runs in his first four seasons.

“Every year after a season I meet with my family and we review my season and my stats. Last year when we had the meeting, I told them next year I’m gonna hit 30 homers, I’m gonna drive in at least 100 and I did it,” Abreu said through an interpreter. “I was able to do it and that’s something that made me feel proud of myself and proud of my family, too, because they have been the ones who have been supported me through my whole career."

Abreu’s known as an extremely hard worker, a template to follow for many if not all of the youngsters coming up as the future stars of the White Sox rebuild. And so it makes this moment all the sweeter for him and those around him.

“It is especially important not just for me but for my family and my team,” Abreu said. “I think that this is a reward for the effort and all the work you put in for preparation for your season. It’s special when you get this kind of result and consistency in your stats. But the most important thing is it’s a reward for my family. And this organization, maybe we are not in the position we want to be right now as a team, but I know that better times are to come.”

“He works extremely hard,” manager Rick Renteria said. “I think everybody was feeling it for him tonight. He’s been pushing. He fouled a ball off of his left shin the other day, and you see him kind of gimping around there. … He’s not one to do anything to deter from continuing to help the team win first and foremost, but along the way he’s able to collect some individual merit points, so to speak. And put himself in a very special class.”

The big question surrounding Abreu isn’t whether he’s worthy of being the leader the young White Sox of the future need to turn rebuilding mode into contending mode a few years down the line. The question is whether he’ll still be around by then. His final year of arbitration is 2019, meaning if the White Sox are looking at 2020 as the year of true contention, it will take a new contract to keep Abreu in town.

A few things factor into that, of course. No. 1, Abreu could continue this consistently terrific pace and be lured away by another team willing to spend more to acquire his services. No. 2, though, is his age. He’ll be 33 years old when the 2020 season starts, and while that’s not old by most standards, it means he’ll demand a big contract — and likely a lengthy one — as he reaches the latter part of his prime. It’s not to suggest Abreu will dramatically slow down in terms of production, but it will most definitely be under consideration as the White Sox look to keep their window of contention open as long as possible.

For what it’s worth, Abreu is constantly thanking the White Sox organization for the opportunity to do what he’s done over the past four seasons, and he’s said how much he wants to keep playing for this franchise.

What is of no question, however, is Abreu’s worth as a top-of-the-line offensive player. His totals with a week’s worth of games left in the 2017 season: 31 homers, 100 RBIs and a .305/.356/.551 slash line. All those percentages would be his highest since his outstanding rookie season in 2014.

And his worth as a leader, as a guy who could be a rallying point for all these young players, that’s pretty darn valuable, too.

“I haven’t (tonight) made light of what I believe he’s becoming as part of this organization and what he is as far as what he does for the team,” Renteria said. “You got a couple of young men in there that are growing up and becoming a part of what I believe are leaders within that clubhouse. And he’s one of them. He’s certainly deserves it. He’s earned it. He’s worked for it. He’s been in this organization since the inception of his major league career. He’s someone that we all are happy is a part of us.”

White Sox not exactly sure what’s up with Carlos Rodon, but he’s confident he’ll be back for 2018

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USA TODAY

White Sox not exactly sure what’s up with Carlos Rodon, but he’s confident he’ll be back for 2018

It’s been more than two weeks since Carlos Rodon was shut down for the season, one day after he was scratched from a start with shoulder inflammation.

And while we know Rodon won’t pitch again in 2017 — a season with just a little more than a week remaining for the rebuilding White Sox — the team still doesn’t know, or still isn’t ready to say, exactly what’s wrong with the former first-round draft pick.

“We’re just trying to get it right,” Rodon said before Saturday night’s game against the visiting Kansas City Royals. “Still trying to figure everything out and take everything we can and put it all together to get the most information and do what’s best for me and for this team.”

That kind of non-update might raise some red flags in the minds of White Sox fans, curious as to what is the latest ailment for a pitcher who missed three months this season while recovering from biceps bursitis.

Rodon was slated to get reevaluated shortly after that early September injury. He was, but no news came of it, at least not yet.

“Pretty similar to what our doc said,” Rodon said of that follow-up evaluation. “Like I said, we’re trying to still gather all the information and figure out what we’re going to do from there.”

Rodon ended his third season in the bigs with a 4.15 ERA in 69.1 innings of work. And while the White Sox still believe he’ll be a huge part of their starting staff moving forward, it’s plenty acceptable to wonder what kind of effects this season of injuries will have on Rodon as the franchise’s rebuild chugs along.

“He continues to be a big part of what we believe is the future of the organization,” manager Rick Renteria said after explaining several times that the team is still trying to figure out what’s wrong with Rodon. “Unfortunately, this year he's been down quite a bit. So assuming he comes back in a good situation and is healthy and is capable of going out and performing, he fits into one of the five guys that are going to be out there for us next season.”

For his part, Rodon is 100-percent confident he’ll be good to go for next year’s campaign.

“I just know that I’ll be ready for next season,” Rodon said. “The goal is to be ready for next year and be healthy through all of next season.”

That, though, will be the million-dollar question as the White Sox starting rotation of the future begins to take shape. Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez are already penciled in for 2018, and Michael Kopech’s 2017 campaign in the minors was so sensational, he could potentially pitch himself into that starting five, too. With younger names like Alec Hansen and Dane Dunning also doing work in the minors, someone’s going to be the odd man out.

Rodon still has the confidence of his organization. But will he have the health to make that confidence pay off?