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Injured White Sox pitchers provide a study in contrast

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James Shields talks about his slow recovery, while Carlos Rodon’s remains shielded

Carlos Rodon still has an arm. I think.
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Among the reasons the White Sox’ over-.500 start is surprising? They’ve been without two of their projected Opening Day starters for multiple weeks.

James Shields hit the disabled list on April 21 with a strained right lat, a disappointing road block after three encouraging outings.

Carlos Rodon didn’t even make it to the post in the regular season. He was cagey and dismissive with reporters who gave him the third degree about the delayed start to his spring training program, but the questions were warranted when Rodon was scratched following his only spring outing with biceps tightness.

Both aren’t able to recover quickly enough to meet the original timetables. Rick Hahn said Shields that the Sox thought he’d “only miss a couple of turns,” on the day Shields was shelved. For Rodon, Hahn said skipping his “first couple of starts” qualified as “erring on the side of caution” back in March.

Those of us with calendars are aware the couple of turns/starts have passed for both, but based on the updates relayed by the White Sox beat reporters in Kansas City on Tuesday, there still isn’t a firm idea of a return date for either.

It’s notable how differently the pitchers are going about handling the mystery, though. In comments before Tuesday’s victory over the Royals, Rick Renteria said the Sox were slowing down Shields’ throwing program, and Shields elaborated on his situation:

“It’s kind of a slower process than I thought right now,” Shields said. “It’s not really responding the way I’d like it to be. We’re just going to keep moving forward.” [...]

“I want to be out there as quickly as possible,” he said. “My body feels good. The rest of my arm feels amazing right now. That’s the good news. Getting some really good workouts in and I’m going to cheer these guys on. Just continue the process right now….We’re going to continue to keep working right now, get this thing right.”

That’s far more than Rodon has said about his condition. He didn’t speak to reporters who saw him throwing off flat ground in Chicago back on April 23, and Renteria adopted Rodon’s deflection tactics when asked for a status update on Tuesday. A transcript from Daryl Van Schouwen:

Has Rodon made progress?

“He continues to be on his throwing program, and he’s doing well. He’s progressing well.”

Is he on a mound yet?

“He’s doing his throwing program, and he’s progressing well.”

Is that a no or you can’t say?

“He’s throwing. And he’s progressing well. And we’re very happy with how he’s moving along.”

Rodon declined media interviews while he was in Chicago on the team’s homestand last week and has since returned to Arizona. If he has thrown off a mound since then, the Sox won’t say.

I can’t say I understand this strategy, because Shields is right there as an example of business as usual. He’s newer to the disabled list, but his immediate situation is similarly murky. Renteria said the team has slowed down his attempts at rejoining the rotation, and Shields expressed disappointment that his lat isn’t cooperating. This is where we’ll stop talking about him, because there’s nothing more to say than, “Well, that sucks.”

The longer the Sox and Rodon evade questions about his status, the more we’re left to guess what’s going unsaid, especially as more Sox personnel get dragged into the game. It invites speculation, and as “a couple of starts” crosses the halfway point toward “a couple of months,” the pessimistic side of the spectrum prevails. John Danks also had his biceps addressed during his shoulder surgery, after all.

It’s understandable why Rodon, a player who has yet to hit arbitration, would be inclined to say little to nothing about an injury that could be track-altering. It might also be a feature of Scott Boras’ representation. The White Sox don’t have a whole lot of experience with Boras clients, partially because the last two core White Sox represented by Boras — Magglio Ordonez and Joe Crede — had their last years with the team marred by sniping about approaches to injuries, which deepened an already significant divide between the agent and the organization.

It just doesn’t seem to be all that effective of a long-term strategy, based on the amount of concerns and unconnected dots (the Boras thing may just be coincidental, for instance). It’d be fun if it turned out that Rodon was just a closed book and he’s been throwing off a mound all week. Usually, though, when nobody wants to talk about the outlook, it’s usually because it’s worse than initially projected. At some point, it seems like the people close to the situation would want to fill in the blanks, rather than leaving those on the outside to try to do it themselves.