Carlos Rodon outstanding in 2017 debut as White Sox trounce Angels

Carlos Rodon outstanding in 2017 debut as White Sox trounce Angels

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Carlos Rodon didn’t look like a guy who pitched in his first game of the entire spring on Sunday afternoon.

Rodon allowed a hit and walked one while striking out five batters in four scoreless innings in his 2017 Cactus League debut. Yoan Moncada also homered and doubled twice for the White Sox, who pounded the Los Angeles Angels 11-2 at Tempe Diablo Stadium.

After working on a deliberately slow program, Rodon admitted he’s been antsy to appear in an exhibition game.

“I’ve been sitting here for a while watching everybody else do something,” Rodon said. “I finally get to get out there and compete. So it was fun.

“Just normal. Getting back out there on the mound and facing those guys. Just had a fun time out there and we had some good defense playing behind me today. Hats off to those guys.”

Rodon had some good movement working. He dropped in a pair of offspeed pitches for called third strikes, two of three punch outs. The left-hander’s fastball sat between 90-91 mph in a scoreless first inning.

Rodon -- who threw strikes on 38 of 65 pitches before throwing 10 more in the bullpen -- struck out Mike Trout, Luis Valbuena (twice), Cameron Maybin and Cliff Pennington. He said he used all four of his pitches in the outing.

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“It’s nice to get a sense of where I’m at and just be able to compete out there like I said,” Rodon said. “Build from that. Just try to build that pitch count up and then try to get up and down five or six times next time and then just more command better changeups.”

The White Sox wanted for Rodon to take the slow route this spring. Not only do they want to help him reach the 200-inning mark, they hope he could avoid some of the fatigue Rodon experienced last summer. Despite that fatigue, Rodon returned to action after he sprained his wrist and excelled, posting a 3.11 ERA with 70 strikeouts in 66 2/3 innings.

“We’re glad he’s out there,” manager Rick Renteria said before the game. “He’s on track and falling into the schedule we had set up at the end.”

Of late, Moncada has been on an impressive pace. Most of his damage Sunday came against the Angels bullpen as he homered off Kirby Yates and hit the first of his doubles against Austin Adams. Through 46 plate appearances, Moncada is slashing .317/.391/.683 with three homers and 13 RBIs.

Fellow prospect Zack Burdi struck out one in 1 2/3 scoreless innings. He hasn’t allowed a run in eight of nine appearances and has a 2.70 ERA with 12 strikeouts in 10 innings this spring.

Matt Davidson homered and tripled in four at-bats. Adam Engel went 2-for-5 with two runs scored. Melky Cabrera went 2-for-4 with two RBIs for the White Sox, who finished with 14 hits.

How Jose Quintana's silent leadership resonated with Michael Kopech

How Jose Quintana's silent leadership resonated with Michael Kopech

He absorbed a ton of information in spring camp, but perhaps it’s what Michael Kopech observed watching Jose Quintana that could help most.

For five weeks in big league camp, the extremely motivated White Sox pitching prospect gleaned every piece of information he could from more experienced teammates.

Kopech and veteran starting pitcher James Shields discussed pitch sequencing and the importance of the changeup. Infielder Tyler Saladino talked with the No. 14-ranked prospect in baseball about visualizing success. Catcher Geo Soto told Kopech pretty much everything about life in the majors.

But even though he didn’t say much, Quintana’s practice sessions may have provided the most valuable lesson of all. The key takeaway, Kopech said, is how Quintana performs every action with a purpose. The young pitcher knows how critical the example Quintana provided is to his development and wants to implement a similar approach.

“(Pitching coach Don Cooper) likes to call it focused practice,” Kopech said. “For me that’s one thing I haven’t done well, is get locked in. You have to be locked in all the time. That’s something that came from Coop and all the big leaguers I was around. Quintana is a great guy to watch when it comes to stuff like that.

“That’s a guy that is a definition of a silent leader. He doesn’t talk about much. He goes and gets his work in and you can just watch him and know that’s the way the game should be played.”

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Kopech took a nice step forward in his development on Tuesday night when he pitched a season-high six scoreless innings for Double-A Birmingham. He struck out eight and allowed a hit while walking four and lowered his ERA to 2.50. The Texas native had only compiled 12 innings in his previous three outings because of “hit-and-miss” fastball command that led to 10 walks.

Along with perfecting his fastball command, one of the keys to Kopech reaching the majors is an increase in workload. Kopech — the 33rd overall pick of the 2014 draft — has never pitched more than 78 2/3 combined innings he produced last season. The White Sox would love for Kopech to reach the 180-inning mark by 2019.

“He doesn’t have a lot of innings under his belt,” player development director Chris Getz said. “He hasn’t been able to have that build up so that’s something we’re going to make sure he can focus on. We’re going to make sure he’s in the right spot so we can do that properly.”

In order for Kopech to eventually hit that mark, he’d need to pitch between 110-130 innings this season and then throw around 160 innings in 2018. But to reach those figures, Kopech must first pitch deeper into games.

Through his first three starts, Kopech worked on a strict pitch count that varied based on performance. If he was on, he could throw as many as 85 pitches. But if he ran into command issues, Kopech might only throw 75.

On Tuesday, Kopech pitched well enough to throw 95 pitches (65 strikes) against the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp. He thinks the key to consistency in games is directly tied to his effort in between. It’s yet another area where Kopech — who reads self-help books, is into Cryotherapy and salt baths and eats meals on the road pre-prepared by his nutritionist — strives to improve.

“From Day 1 to Day 4, you need to be just as focused as Day 5,” Kopech said. “I can’t stress that enough. If my bullpen tomorrow I lose a little focus, then I know I need to get right back into it to prepare for my next start. That’s something that’s going to have to kick in sooner than later.”

Birmingham manager Julio Vinas likes how Kopech has handled himself early in the season. Vinas thinks Kopech has the proper mindset and tools to be a special pitcher.

‘He’s got the right mentality and now it’s executing and it’s going to be there,” Vinas said.

He may have been there this spring, but Kopech preferred to not be seen or heard by his veteran teammates. Kopech couldn’t do anything about the onslaught of attention the media paid to him after he came over with Yoan Moncada in the Chris Sale trade. But he could control the rest of his time around teammates. Little by little, he’d engage the veterans without drawing too much attention.

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“I just didn’t want to make it about me,” Kopech said. “It was my first big league camp and a lot of those guys are getting ready for a big league season and I’m competing for a job that’s not necessarily on a big league roster right away. I was just trying to take care of my business. All ears, not really any talk and take away as much as I could without pissing anybody off, really.

“I got the chance to face some good hitters and take away a lot of knowledge from older guys and I think that’s the best I could do to prepare for the season.”

But Kopech agrees the best preparation came from watching Quintana, who Cooper always lauds for his practice effort. Kopech hopes to be able to emulate how the 2016 All-Star pitcher handles himself soon enough.

Kopech thought he focused well from the second through the fourth inning in an April 20 start at Tennessee. But he wasn’t as pleased with his effort in the first and fifth innings.

“That’s the way I want to lock in when I’m on the mound,” Kopech said of Quintana. “I haven’t been doing that, but it’s something I’m going to work on going forward.

“I have to remind myself to stay locked in even though I’m doing what I always do because I need to have the same focus (in practice) I do when I’m pitching on the mound.”

Jose Abreu hopes to be ready for White Sox next game after leaving with injury

Jose Abreu hopes to be ready for White Sox next game after leaving with injury

Jose Abreu said he hopes to be ready to go when the White Sox start their series against the Detroit Tigers on Friday.

The White Sox first baseman took an awkward-looking fall on the infield grass while trying to field a grounder in the fifth inning of Wednesday’s win over the visiting Kansas City Royals, leaving the game with what the team announced as a mild right hip flexor strain. Abreu was labeled as day-to-day.

Manager Rick Renteria didn’t have any sort of update after the game — though he said he didn't think it was serious — but in his comments to reporters, Abreu said he felt fine after receiving treatment and will be ready to go for Friday’s series opener in Detroit.

“I feel good right now,” Abreu said. “I got treatment and I feel good. The day off tomorrow is going to help and I hope to be ready for the first game in Detroit.”

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Both Renteria and Abreu said the first baseman had no desire to exit Wednesday’s game but that Renteria was being appropriately cautious.

“He did not want to come out,” Renteria said. “He was pretty adamant but I think all of us, you don't take any chances. I think it was just the right thing to do at that time.”

“When you are on the field, you didn’t want to leave the field. It doesn’t matter what’s the reason or what’s happening,” Abreu said. “But he’s the boss and he made that decision and you have to accept it.”

Abreu went 2-for-2 with a two-out RBI double in the first inning Wednesday before he left. He has had two hits in each of his last four games and is 8-for-15 during the White Sox current four-game winning streak.

The White Sox are off Thursday. The team said Abreu will be reevaluated then after arriving in Detroit.