White Sox: Carlos Rodón gains the lead in fifth starter battle

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - AUGUST 03: Carlos Rodon #55 of the Chicago White Sox pitches in the second inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on August 03, 2020 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - AUGUST 03: Carlos Rodon #55 of the Chicago White Sox pitches in the second inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on August 03, 2020 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

Carlos Rodón‘s performance on Tuesday was a major victory for him in the battle to be the Chicago White Sox fifth starter. Tony La Russa and came out and named Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, and Lance Lynn as the first three starters in the rotation on Tuesday afternoon. This comes as no surprise but it does mean that there are two more spots up for grabs.

With Michael Kopech’s ticketed for the bullpen, there are three pitchers remaining to claim them. Dylan Cease seems to have the inside track position on the fourth spot, despite Tony La Russa’s refusal to say it publicly. The true battle is between Carlos Rodón and Reynaldo López. Every chance they get to pitch in spring training is an opportunity to earn a job.

Carlos Rodon makes the most sense to be the fifth Chicago White Sox starter right now.

The battle to be in the rotation raged on Tuesday. Carlos Rodón took his opportunity and ran with it. The lefty was dialed in from start to finish against the San Diego Padres. He was able to force two ground outs then ended the inning by punching out Manny Machado.

He picked up right where he left off in the second sandwiching a strikeout of Will Myers between two more ground outs. He finished his day by stranding a runner on first base with the help of back-to-back strikeouts. In total, he tossed three scoreless innings allowing one hit, no walks, and four strikeouts.

This was his second appearance this spring and he has yet to give up a run. He threw two scoreless innings against the Cincinnati Reds on March 11th. Two stats have stood out from his pair of outings. First, he has not walked anyone. He has been attacking the strike zone and has been rewarded with five strikeouts.

The second stat that has stood out is that out of the15 outs Rodón has recorded, only one has come via a fly ball. While this is an incredibly small sample size, it is a positive sign. Guaranteed Rate Field is a hitter-friendly park. The ball has a way of finding a path to the bleachers so it is important for pitchers to keep the ball on the ground there. Rodón has done just that during spring training.

Five innings pitched is not enough to win him the job nor is it enough to definitely claim that Rodón is a changed pitcher. However, the early returns are promising and it has breathed new confidence into the 28-year-old southpaw.

"“I guess it happens start by start, I build that confidence back, Rodón said after his start against the Padres. “It’s kind of like riding a bike, but it seems like I haven’t ridden that bike for a while. Today was a step in the right direction.”"

It is easy to see why Rodón’s confidence was shaken. He went from being the best pitcher in college baseball and being drafted third overall in 2014 to being removed from the rotation and non-tendered this offseason. Injuries have hampered him his entire career, limiting him to just 41 starts in the past four years.

Despite non-tendering him, White Sox did not give up on Rodon. There is still life in his left arm and they hope Ethan Katz can tap into that talent.  They brought him back on a Major League contract that guarantees him $3 million dollars. Katz has been making some tweaks to his delivery that should help take the stress off of his arm and incorporate his legs more. The pressure of being the future ace of the organization is no longer on his shoulders either which should only help  Rodón succeed in this season.

The $3 million Carlos is guaranteed is an incentive for the White Sox to award him the job. This is especially because his counterpart, Reynaldo López, has options remaining. Like Rodon, López has elite arm talent but has been wildly inconsistent over his past couple of seasons. López added clarity to the race with another subpar performance on Tuesday. He started his spring out strong, twirling two scoreless innings. Since then, he has been torched for seven runs in his last six innings.

Rome was not built in a day and the White Sox fifth starter was not decided from a small sample of spring training innings. All signs, however, are pointing to Carlós Rodon breaking camp as a member of the starting rotation.