GLENDALE, Ariz. — His mechanics have been fixed, his arm feels healthy and he is mowing down hitters in Cactus League games and making it look easy.
Oh, to being on the other side of a long and arduous journey.
It’s early, and not even left-hander Carlos Rodon knows how long he’ll sustain this – he has pitched nine scoreless innings with no walks and 10 strikeouts and four hits allowed this spring – but he’s looking more like the pitcher drafted third overall in 2014 than the one who labored in two starts and two relief appearances battling shoulder soreness last season before getting non-tendered when it was over.
“Tommy John surgery [in May, 2019 for Rodon] is a long road,” Rodon said in a conversation with the Sun-Times. “I’m not trying to be traumatic about it because a lot of people in this game have Tommy John surgery. But there were days when I thought, “Am I ever going to throw again? When you can get on a mound and do what you do again, it’s emotional, right? Because it’s a major surgery and all you know is baseball. You live and breathe baseball. And when the game is taken away from you for a year, it’s hard.”
So was being non-tendered by the Sox. It sent off an alarm in Rodon’s head and “motivated” him.
“It was a wakeup call,” he said.
He responded at home by eating better and working out two hours a day.
“Nutrition has a lot to do with your body,” said the thick-bodied Rodon, who didn’t shed much weight but looks thinner in his face and is more toned. “You’re not going to put cheap gas in a sports car. You’re going to use premium.”
Rodon praises wife Ashley’s contribution to a better diet. It helped that the coronavirus forced them to eat out less.
“When everything went down I saw a light switch flip for him,” Ashley said, recalling when Rodon was non-tendered on Dec. 2. “And he was so determined.
“When he got non-tendered we were so rigid with [eating better] and he was so great about it, and it’s kind of crazy what a difference it made with how he felt, and his energy. And you can see how good he looks. He is in phenomenal shape.”
And looking better throwing in a healthier downward direction toward the plate under the watch of first-year pitching coach Ethan Katz.
“My direction to home plate hasn’t been good in a while,” said Rodon, who is keeping his back foot, not his toe, grounded on the rubber. When he drove off his left toe he landed on the right big toe of his other foot and that led to throwing across his body.
Core velocity belt drills “reinforces you to stay in that back leg grounded,” keeps him square and cleans up his lower half, Rodon said.
“Helps with a lot of things,” Rodon said. “Command for sure, more consistent and repeatable delivery.”
And less stress on the arm.
“My body feels good and that’s a true statement,” Rodon said.
After the non-tender, the Sox came back with a one-year, $3 million offer for their 2019 Opening Day starter to return. He considered a change of scenery with another team but accepted.
“I’m not going to lie, yeah I thought that could be good,” he said. “But it’s hard to leave a team, being a part of the rebuild and part of this group so long when things are great, you know?”
How many innings and starts will he contribute in 2020 to a team with deep postseason goals? Rodon has made 41 starts over the last four seasons.
“Good question,” Rodon said. “As many as I can give. What will keep me healthy for the next several years, I’m not sure, what an innings limit would look like.”
His only thought right now is his next start against the Brewers Friday.
The first three outings “were confidence builders.”
“I know these games don’t count,” Rodon said, “but you’re still pitching against an opposing team. It builds confidence going into the season. I’m very optimistic.”