Fifty starts into his Major League career, the White Sox still aren’t exactly sure what kind of animal they have in Carlos Rodon.”He’s a horse,” Chicago manager Robin Ventura said.That’s a good thing for a starting pitcher. It means Ventura can depend on the lefthander out of NC State to take the ball every fifth day and give the bullpen a bit of a rest. Rodon has gone at least six innings in 20 of his 27 starts this year and thrown 90 pitches or more in 24.Ventura isn’t the only one impressed with Rodon’s durability, or the only one to go to the animal kingdom to find a comparison.”When he does get in a jam he settles down,” All-Star third baseman Todd Frazier said. “You don’t see him get antsy or excited. You see it in pitchers’ faces. Sometimes guys have got antics out there with the pouty face. He doesn’t have any of that, he just bulldogs his way through.”While his ability to show up and stick with it are admirable qualities, starting pitchers generally aspire to be more than innings eaters, especially ones chosen third overall in the amateur draft, like Rodon was in 2014.In two seasons in the big leagues, Rodon has shown that he can be a dependable number three in the White Sox rotation, behind all stars Chris Sale and Jose Quintana.That’s impressive progress in a short time, especially considering the fact that the two pitchers drafted ahead of himBrady Aiken and Tyler Kolekhave yet to throw a pitch above the Class A level in the minor leagues. Just eight of the 41 players drafted in 2014’s first round have reached the big leagues, including just five of the 20 pitchers chosen. Rodon has more MLB wins than anyone else in his draft class.Still, he has only shown flashes of the pitcher the White Sox saw at NC State, and the one the organization and Rodon still hope he’ll become. He’s learning on the job at the big-league level, but unquestionably, he’s making progress.In the 11 starts since a sprained wrist interrupted his second season in the Majors, Rodon has gone six innings nine times and thrown 90 pitches in 10. Over that span, he’s gone 6-2 with a 3.49 ERA.His 50th Major League start may have been his best yet. Pitching against the first place Indians in Cleveland, Rodon was dominant over eight innings.He didn’t allow a hit until the fifth inning and struck out a career-high 11. He allowed two hits, and just three runners reached second base. With Chicago closer David Robertson ready to take over in the ninth inning, Rodon closed his day with a flourish, striking out the side on 13 pitches in the eighth inning.”That was outstanding. That’s the best I’ve seen him,” Ventura said. “Strike one was the biggest thing, and it was with authority. It was placed well. After that, it just seems like he got better as the game moved along. A couple of guys get on and he turned it up in key situations. In the middle of the game, late in the game, he had it all.””I was able to drive the ball today and when I’m going good, that’s the way it is,” Rodon said, “driving the ball through the zone and attacking hitters.”His performance was also promising considering the stakes. Cleveland was looking to clinch its first divisional title since 2007 in the Indians’ final home game of the season.”There’s a lot on the line for these guys playing on the other side, being able to clinch something and he just had his mind set on it,” Ventura said. “Today he was going out with a purpose. He was locating, he had great command on his changeup. It’s a lineup that has been able to rough us up before and he responded.”The opposing manager was just as impressed.”He’s a young pitcher and he’s getting better with starts,” Cleveland’s Terry Francona said. “We’ve seen a lot of him because he’s in our division. His offspeed is better, even his delivery is smoothing out and, like a lot of young pitchers that have talent, you’re starting to see him gain experience. He’s pretty good.”The win also put Rodon over .500 for his career, at 17-16. While he’s not at the level of the top-of-rotation starters yet, he’s only 23 and making rapid progress. That was the age that Sale, 4-3 career record, had his break-out 17-8 season. Quintana was just 6-6 in his career at the same age.In other words, better things appear to be just over the horizon.”I couldn’t be happier for him,” Frazier said. “Hopefully there’s more of that to come for him next year.””It needs to stay like that,” Rodon said.If it does, the only animal he’ll be compared to is the top dog.
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