On Wednesday, Carlos Rodón of Chicago White Sox was pulled after just 3 2/3 innings. He hadn’t been pitching particularly well. He had struck out six, but he had also walked two while giving up three runs. It seemed as if Rick Renteria had given him a short leash after his disastrous outing his last time out in which he gave up eight runs in three innings.
After the game, Renteria revealed that Rodón was dealing with blister issues, but on Thursday, Rodón was put on the 10-day injured list with elbow inflammation. Every indication suggests that he’ll be out far longer than 10 days, and that he’ll be lucky if he can return in 2019.
Asked if Tommy John surgery is a possibility, GM Rick Hahn would only say ‘everything is on the table’ for Carlos Rodon.— Daryl Van Schouwen (@CST_soxvan) May 2, 2019
Rodón has had issues staying on the field before. He missed the tail end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018 with inflammation in his throwing shoulder. That was after missing a large chunk of the 2017 season with bicep bursitis. Last year, when he was healthy, he didn’t look the same. His strikeout rate fell to 17.6 percent, and his xFIP and SIERA both rose above 5.00.
It’s huge blow for the White Sox. If Rodón does need Tommy John, he might not return until late 2020. Considering that he’s been their best starting pitcher at times, this could further delay when the White Sox can return to contention. Not to mention that Michael Kopech is recovering from Tommy John as well.
But the bigger blow is to Rodón himself who looked like he wasn’t just bouncing back from a down 2018 but taking a major step forward.
He made adjustments coming into 2019, though, and the early returns were exceptional. Before his last two rough outings, which were likely caused by elbow and/or blister problems, Rodón had pitched to a 2.89 ERA and 2.48 FIP in his first five starts.
He got off to a similarly good start ERA-wise in 2018, but the peripherals didn’t back him up. This year, he’s been much more convincing. The walks issue might not have been resolved, but the strikeouts came back in a big way. Even including the two poor outings, he had struck out 46 batters in 34 2/3 innings.
The biggest change is that he followed the league-wide trend and dropped his sinker in favor of the slider. He was already diminishing the sinker in 2018, but through the first month of the season, he had cut it out entirely.
The slider has always been his best swing and miss pitch. By pitch values, it was among the top five sliders in baseball, smack dab between Max Scherzer and Collin McHugh.
Each year, the whiff rate on the pitch has stayed between 38.9 and 41.9 percent. This year, he appeared to be regaining his ability to get hitters to chase his slider outside of the zone by throwing it closer to the strike zone. In 2018, Rodón threw 16.9 percent of his sliders in what Baseball Savant calls the shadow and chase regions. In 2019, he threw 23.9 percent of his sliders in those zones.
Nothing is certain yet, but Tommy John seems like the likely outcome. Hopefully, that’s not the case because Rodón looked like he was on the verge of a breakthrough, but now we’ll have to wait until he returns to know if it was for real or not.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.