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Terrerobytes: Carlos Rodon’s return is encouraging

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Plus: Rick Renteria keeps getting ejected, the ball is easier to hit deep, an umpire steps up, and more

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MLB: New York Yankees at Chicago White Sox David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Carlos Rodon’s first MLB start of 2017 on Wednesday looked a lot like spring training start. He threw a disproportionate amount of fastballs and everybody was pleased to see him get through five innings. His night’s work gave him a supply of March-like quotes, too:

“I was pretty excited,” Rodon said. “I was going a little fast in the first. But it was good to be out there. Next time out, it’ll hopefully be a little better. Arm feels good, body feels good, all you can ask for.”

And just like spring training, Job One is making sure he can take the mound again in five days. He was a late scratch before a second spring start that never materialized, so he’s not out of the woods yet.

The pitch data was encouraging — a fastball that averaged 94 and held its velocity all the way through. The strike zone chart was less so.

The good news is that his stuff had enough life that it wasn’t punished when it found the middle of the zone, although strong defense over the first five innings helped.

Given the limited sample (five innings) and the rust involved (plenty), there isn’t a whole lot to glean from this start in and of itself. If his second start resembles it, then it comes back into play -- assuming he makes a second start, at least.

Terrerobytes

James Fegan wrote a great piece about Quintana’s turnaround in June, noting that Quintana, Kevan Smith and Don Cooper said he’d been bedeviled by a cutting action on fastball and changeup he couldn’t account for, and an inconsistent release point on his curveball. Both appear to be fixed.

Rick Renteria has been ejected in three of the six games during this homestand, the latest for a dispute with Hunter Wendelstedt while Jake Petricka took on water in the sixth. However, the Tribune and Sun-Times disagree not just over whether homestand is one word or two -- it’s one — but what Renteria was arguing. The manager himself wouldn’t say:

“There’s really not a whole lot to say to be honest,” Renteria said. “There wasn’t a lot said. I’m sure I’m going to deal with here in the next 24-48 hours but there wasn’t much said.

“Obviously they felt I said something that was worthy of being ejected. So yeah, I didn’t think so.”

Colleen Kane said Renteria was ejected for “arguing balls and strikes,” while Daryl Van Schouwen interpreted Renteria’s evasive comment as “Renteria seemed to be saying he wasn’t disputing balls and strikes.”

Alen Hanson replaced Avisail Garcia late in Wednesday’s game. I assumed it was a blowout breather, but Garcia jammed his knee while sliding back into first on Gary Sanchez’s pickoff attempt. He said he thinks he’s OK, but he’ll undergo an MRI regardless.

Kevan Smith felt the weight of his 129 walkless MLB plate appearances, so when the count got to 3-0 against Dellin Betances in the ninth inning on Tuesday, Smith seized the opportunity.

The White Sox catcher was so intent upon ending a lengthy walk drought to start his career that he determined to lean in against one of the hardest throwers in the league.

Ahead 3-0 in the count with one out in the ninth inning against New York Yankees reliever Dellin Betances, Smith inched closer to the plate. [...]

“Oh yeah (I knew),” Smith said. “One hundred percent. I got way on the plate and was like, ‘You’re either going to hit me or walk me’ because I’m not letting this one slide. I’ve been to a few 3-0 counts, but finally got the first one out of the way. Everybody was laughing at me.”

Speaking of Smith, Fegan delves into his improvement in pitch framing. He’s not yet Tyler Flowers in this regard, but as a big catcher himself, it’s something he aspires to:

Jerking the ball back to the zone after it reaches the glove is a “red flag” according to Smith, who says he focuses more on beating the ball to the spot than bringing it back to its initial target. Holding the pitch in place for seconds to give the umpire a longer look at where it was caught is the type of stuff Salas says is better off left behind in college and usually comes off as showing the umpire up in the majors.

Thanks to various studies by writers like Ben Lindbergh, Mitchel Lichtman and Rob Arthur, it seems more and more certain that the baseballs are to blame for the big power numbers and exit velocities that have popped out over the last couple of years. They found through lab testing that the ball is bouncier, and they’d heard that the seams are lower, but they couldn’t figure out how to comprehensively lab test either beyond a shadow of a doubt.

And then they realized that Statcast and PITCHf/x track the velocity of pitches both at the release point and at the point it crosses the plate. Sure enough, the readings at both points are closer than they’d been in previous years, which indicates less air resistance, which would be the natural result of baseballs being smaller and having lower seams. And if baseballs aren’t losing as much velocity on their way to the plate, then they’d also maintain more of their exit velocity going in the other direction. Add it up, and Arthur says “about one-quarter of the home run spike could be attributable to decreased drag.”

(I wonder if a different baseball helps explain why Quintana’s pitches acted in a way he wasn’t used to.)

Here’s a helluva story: John Tumpane noticed a woman climb the railing on the Roberto Clemente Bridge in Pittsburgh and found a way to keep her from jumping.

Tumpane mouthed to a passer-by, “Call 911.” As they spoke, he said, the woman became more emotional. She cried and tried to slip from his grip. He locked both arms around her back. At times, she dangled both feet off the bridge’s edge, putting her full weight in his arms.

“I was thinking, ‘God, this has got to be a good ending, not a bad ending,’ and held on for dear life,” Tumpane said. “She said, ‘You don’t care about me.’ I said, ‘I care.’ She said, ‘I just want to end it right now. I want to be in a better place.’ I said, ‘You’re going to be all right.’ ”