Last spring, Carlos Rodon ramped up the hype with a start against the Royals that was eye-popping, both figuratively and literally.
In that start against Kansas City, Rodon threw four scoreless innings, allowing four hits and zero walks while striking out nine. And he did all of that without help from his changeup -- he threw just four over 67 pitches. The slider was his weapon of choice, and it was incredible.
On Friday, Rodon put together another easy, scoreless, walkless four-inning outing. This time it was against the Padres, and while he only struck out three, it's because he avoided throwing his slider all game ...
[Dioner] Navarro, though, called for exactly zero sliders during Rodon’s start against the San Diego Padres on Friday. He caught him before in bullpen sessions and saw the slider then, but for the pair’s first time working together in a game setting, he wanted to see what Rodon could do just throwing fastballs and changeups. [...]
So when was the last time Rodon made it through a start without throwing his trusty slider?
"That was the first time in a while," he said. ‘Maybe since, like, middle school."
... or did he? Brooks' game log says he threw one of them, and it's the very first pitch of the game:
Nah, he's probably right. The way Jon Jay reacts makes it look like a slider, but the break recorded on the pitch makes it look more like a four-seamer, or maybe something with a little cut on it. But it'd be kinda ballsy to introduce himself to the Padres with a slider, then never throw it again.
Whatever the case, he threw 61 pitches, and while 14 of them were changeups, he did most of the damage with his fastball. He ended the first inning with a double play on one, and then he punched out Derek Norris with three of them to end the second inning, all looking:
(All three of his strikeouts were backwards K's, so that's a point for Navarro on framing.)
As we learned with Rodon over the second half of his season last year, he doesn't really need the changeup to be great, at least in terms of results. He only threw it for about 10 percent of his pitches, whether in good times or bad, because he can throw his slider with enough variety to give hitters different looks throughout a game.
The fastball command is the more important aspect, because that was what he struggled with early in the season before he and Don Cooper figured out how to iron out his release point. That helped him flip the switch over the last two months, while his changeup usage remained rather steady.
Ideally, Rodon ends up liking his changeup more a la Chris Sale, using it to get weak outs, increase efficiency, and perhaps save some stress on his arm. But if Rodon doesn't mind throwing his slider more than a quarter of the time, there's nothing wrong with the way he is.
There's also nothing wrong with the White Sox bats, which racked up four more homers, including three in the third inning off James Shields: