Carlos Rodon hasn’t been too far off the mark in his outings early in 2016.
His April 18 start aside, the team’s 2014 first-round pick has thrown the ball very well. Yet six starts into his sophomore campaign, Rodon has a 1-4 record.
The young White Sox left-hander made only one big mistake on Wednesday night and Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz took advantage. Ortiz’s fifth-inning home run off a Rodon fastball got the Red Sox on track and they tacked on several runs late to snap a three-game winning streak for the White Sox, who fell 5-2 in front of 14,383 at U.S. Cellular Field. Jose Abreu homered, but that was all for the 19-9 White Sox, who were stymied by seven sharp innings from Clay Buchholz.
“Just one pitch, and that’s the name of this game I guess,” Rodon said. “One pitch changes the game pretty dramatically. That’s why people love baseball I guess.”
Rodon has discovered the importance of one pitch several times this season.
He threw an outstanding game in his first start at Oakland on April 6 only to be felled by an opposite-field homer by Mark Canha. In his last turn in Baltimore, Rodon was on cruise control before his defense did him in. Later in the contest, Rodon allowed another opposite-field blast to Nolan Reimold, which sealed the southpaw’s fate.
On Wednesday, Ortiz taught him a lesson after Rodon issued a two-out walk to Xander Bogaerts with the White Sox leading 2-1 in the fifth. Rodon left a 1-1 fastball over the plate and Ortiz turned on it and drove it 397 feet to right on a windy, cold night.
“Don’t throw a fastball down the middle to Big Papi,” Rodon said.
It was the sixth homer of the season and 509th of his career for Ortiz, who is set to retire after the season ends.
But Big Papi wasn’t done yet.
He followed a pair of one-out singles in the seventh inning with one of his own against Zach Duke. Ortiz beat a White Sox shift and dribbled a single through an open spot on the left side of the infield to drive in run No. 22 on the season and put Boston ahead 4-2. The Red Sox added another run in the eighth.
Ortiz, 40, is hitting .311/.404/.633.
“He comes up big in certain situations,” White Sox leadoff man Adam Eaton said. “Ortiz is a heck of a hitter, and he’s gonna make you pay.”
The White Sox couldn’t do the same with Buchholz, who entered the game 0-3 with a 6.51 ERA. Eaton said the right-hander kept them off-balance by using all five of his pitches. Buchholz appeared to have trouble keeping the ball down in the first as Eaton flew out deep to left ahead of a Jimmy Rollins single and Abreu’s two-run homer, his first since April 19. Abreu’s fourth homer snapped a 61-plate appearance drought and put the White Sox ahead 2-0.
But Buchholz settled in and retired 19 of the last 22 batters he faced, including 10 in a row.
He limited the White Sox to two runs and three hits while striking out six.
“We got off well there, Jimmy getting on and Jose hitting a homer, but we can’t stop there,” Eaton said. “You know as an offense you can’t stop there.”
A lack of run support has also been an early theme in Rodon’s starts.
The team has scored a total of 10 runs with Rodon on the mound in six starts. Entering Wednesday, his 2.1 run support average per nine innings ranked 67th among 73 qualified starters, according to baseball-reference.com.
The limited backing has often left Rodon — who minus his April 18 start against the Los Angeles Angels has a 3.03 ERA — susceptible to one mistake costing him the game.
“I think he learns something every time out there,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “There’s something to be gained from it and for him, he’s going to be better for it. He’s got great stuff, a competitor and all that, but you always learn stuff as you’re going through this. Even looking at Sale or Quintana, they’re still doing things and you learn something every time you’re out there. Carlos is no different.
“We know he’s a good pitcher, but even the good ones run through tough stretches.”