Rodón’s no-hitter the latest step in comeback for former NC State star

Back from Tommy John surgery, the White Sox pitcher took a perfect game into the ninth inning last Wednesday

White Sox starting pitcher Carlos Rodón celebrates his no-hitter against the Cleveland Indians last Wednesday in Chicago. (David Banks / AP Photo)

Carlos Rodón described himself as “blessed” after pitching a no-hitter for the Chicago White Sox against the Cleveland Indians last Wednesday.

It’s not an uncommon reaction.

Athletes regularly say such things, especially after performances that far exceed even their most lofty expectations.

In this case, though, it was anything but a cliche. Considering everything he’s been through, the former NC State ace had every reason to feel blessed.

The 8-0 gem at Chicago’s Guaranteed Rate Field, which came just a ninth-inning hit by pitch away from being a perfect game, was the culmination of a tumultuous two-year stretch that nearly derailed Rodón’s once-promising career and led the White Sox to decline offering him a contract at the end of a disappointing 2020 season.

“It’s a pretty special moment,” he said in a postgame Zoom conference. “Not many people can say they’ve thrown a no-hitter in Major League Baseball.

“In interviews, it’s always like, ‘You’ve had some ups and downs, what’s it like to go through that and go through some adversity?’ It just feels good to finally sit here and tell you that I dominated.”

Rodón was one of the most dominant pitchers in ACC history during his three seasons with the Wolfpack, in which he set a school record for strikeouts, earned conference Pitcher of the Year honors and led his team to the College World Series for the first time in 45 years in 2013.

A year later, he became the third overall pick in the MLB Draft.

But things didn’t exactly go according to plan after making a rapid rise to the majors, thanks to a wrist sprain in 2016, multiple trips to the disabled list in 2017, a shoulder issue in 2018 and, finally, Tommy John surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow in May 2019.

He returned last season but was nontendered by the White Sox after going 0-2 with an 8.22 ERA in just 7⅔ innings pitched.

It was a turn of events he viewed as “a wake-up call.”

Even after signing a one-year deal to remain with the White Sox in February, there was no guarantee he would make the team’s opening day roster, let alone the starting rotation. It took a strong performance in spring training for Rodón to solidify his spot.

And he’s carried the momentum over into the regular season.

Five days after his no-hitter, he beat the Indians again by allowing only one run in five innings to improve his record to 3-0 with an 0.47 earned run average.

“Baseball is pretty humbling,” said the 28-year-old left-hander from Holly Springs. “It will eat you, spit you out. And sometimes it will reward you.”

For all his detractors — and there were plenty of them on social media last fall after he failed to hold a three-run lead in the seventh inning of a series-deciding playoff loss to the Indians — Rodón had at least one ardent supporter who never doubted his ability to bounce back.

“Carlos is such a bulldog, such a competitor,” NC State baseball coach Elliott Avent said. “Once Carlos makes up his mind to do something, you’re going to get the very best he’s got.”

Avent, as he frequently does, reached out to Rodón before Wednesday’s start to check in with his former ace and offer a word of encouragement.

“Elliott texted me and said, ‘Are you all right?’ because he knew I had a stomach thing going on,” Rodón said, referring to a brief illness that forced him to wait an extra day before taking his turn on the mound. “I said, ‘I’m good,’ and he said, ‘Good, now go shove.’”

While Rodón took the advice to heart, Avent went off to prepare his team for its weekend road trip to Notre Dame. It wasn’t until after practice that the Wolfpack coach was alerted to the history that was being made.

“I was headed home and I started getting phone calls and texts asking if I was watching Carlos, so I knew something good was going on,” he said. “I just didn’t know until I turned the TV on that he had a perfect game going.”

Avent picked the game up in the sixth inning. By then, Rodón was cruising thanks to the six-run first inning his team put together behind him.

After retiring the first 25 hitters he faced with a variety of fastballs, change-ups and his trademark slider, he lost his bid for a perfect game when a 1-2 slider in the dirt clipped the foot of Cleveland’s Roberto Perez with one out in the ninth.

But Rodón quickly shook that off by setting down the next two hitters to start the celebration. His 114th and final pitch, which induced Jordan Luplow into a ground out to third, was clocked at 98.8 mph — the fastest he’s thrown since 2016.

According to STATS, Rodón is the first major league pitcher to throw a no-hitter within two years after having Tommy John surgery. He is also the first State alumnus ever to accomplish the feat at baseball’s highest level.

“Extreme respect for him,” White Sox catcher Zack Collins said after the game. “He was highly touted coming out of the draft and got up real quick. He showed people he could do the job and had a couple of injuries. For him to battle back from a couple of different surgeries like he has and come back to us to show what he’s shown so far has been incredible.”