Carlos Rodon pitches five scoreless innings in final start of regular seasonDaryl Van Schouwenon September 30, 2021 at 2:54 am

Left-hander Carlos Rodon’s much anticipated start, his first in nine days and only his sixth in the final two months of the season, finally unfolded Wednesday at Guaranteed Rate Field.

It wasn’t overpowering but it was effective.

“I didn’t have my best stuff but went out there and got outs and gave my team a chance to win,” Rodon said after pitching five scoreless innings of one-run ball in the White Sox’ 6-1 win over the Reds. “Didn’t have that overpowering fastball but had some secondary stuff and got weak contact.”

It was something of a test run looking ahead to the postseason for the All-Star left-hander who has pitched through fatigue and soreness in recent weeks as his innings workload reached a level not seen since 2018. There are playoff plans to be made and pitching rotations to be mapped out for an anticipated best-of-five American League Division Series.

“He found a way to get hitters out, the big key is how he feels physically [Thursday] so he can get closer to where he was velocity wise, so just reserve judgment,” manager Tony La Russa said.

Rodon, who got outs without resurrecting the mid-to-upper 90s velocity that carried him to Cy Young contender status during the first half of the season, was mostly in the 90-91 mph range with his four-seam fastball, four-to-five mph below his average for most of the season. That still gives cause for some concern, but there was no qualm with his results. He got nine fly ball outs and just one ground ball out while striking out four and walking one. He threw an economical 69 pitches, 43 for strikes, and got eight swinging strikes.

“I’m not too concerned,” he said. “I got 15 outs and gave up one hit. Some days I’m not going to have it all.”

Michael Kopech relieved Rodon with three scoreless innings, leaving Rodon with a 13-5 record, 2.37 ERA and 185 strikeouts in the best season of his career. Rodon made 24 starts, threw 132 2/3 innings and had five starts with five-plus innings and one or no hits allowed, the most in AL history. And while he hasn’t pitched more than five innings in his last eight starts, Rodon went 5-0 with a 1.92 ERA over his last six.

“To put it in perspective, I threw 11 innings last year, this year I threw 132,” Rodon said. “That’s a lot on a body but I’m not going to use that as an excuse. I’m going to go out there and try to win for my team.”

Rodon, who rested his shoulder on the injured list in mid-August and was given extra days of rest throughout the season, had lasted only three innings in his last start against the Tigers on Sept. 20. The picture of him hanging his head in the dugout was anything but encouraging, and La Russa expressed concern about the discomfort his pitcher was dealing with.

If and when Rodon gets a chance to face the Astros and how far deep into the game he could pitch in the AL Division Series which starts next Thursday is something La Russa, his staff and general manager Rick Hahn will discuss in the coming days.

After Thursday’s off day, the Sox (91-68) have three games remaining against the Tigers. Lance Lynn will pitch Friday, followed by Lucas Giolito Saturday and Dylan Cease Sunday. That would allow Lynn and Giolito to pitch Games 1 and 2 of the ALDS against Houston next Thursday and Friday on five days rest, although the order hasn’t been set. Perhaps one scenario would be Rodon starting Game 3 with Kopech close behind. Another would be starting Cease.

Gavin Sheets hit his 11th home run against Reds right-hander Sonny Gray and drove in another run with a single and Tim Anderson hit his 17th of the season.

The Sox are 1 1/2 games behind the Astros, who have four games left and hold the tiebreaker.

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