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.”