PHILADELPHIA — Carlos Rodón really likes his change.
He threw it 12.4% of the time last season with the Chicago White Sox. He loves talking about it. He still tinkers with it in his parallel sessions. He’ll smash a good one in the bullpen and give him a nod of approval. He keeps tricking one of his catchers into calling him into a game.
They hadn’t, of course. Not when they could lay down a finger and get a four-seam fastball that is among the most devastating throws in the game. Not when they could call a slider that has a 41.9% smell rate. You don’t go to a world-class seafood restaurant and order the turkey pot pie. The fact that opponents hit .367 against his change last season doesn’t help sell the dish.
Rodón had thrown 933 shots in 10 games without getting the sign of the change. But in the fifth inning of a somewhat scattered and ineffective start in Philadelphia on Wednesday, the moment has come. With Rhys Hoskins counted 0-1, Curt Casali put down four floating fingers.
Casali’s fingers twitched again.
The second throw was much better than the first. It was not an easy grip of the hand. It was a borderline miss. And he had the type of glove-side action, fading down and inside of a right-handed hitter, which is programmed to produce blocked pop-ups and over-eager puffs.
More importantly, it allowed Rodón to compose everything else.
“It’s kind of funny to think that’s when the lights went on,” Casali said. “Something in the way he was pronouncing his wrist kind of activated his fastball. What you saw there is exactly what you are looking for, get that extra extra on the fastball.
Rodón had that extra reach in his first six starts until mid-May, when he led the major leagues in strikeouts with 53 in 35 innings, posted a 1.80 ERA and was already hailed as the best signing of the offseason. He lacked that carry in his next three starts, starting with a 10-hit, eight-run immolation at St. Louis.
He collected it in round five at Citizens Bank Park. His fastball soared up to 99 mph and whizzed through the top of the strike zone. His slider had even more bite and break. He knocked out Hoskins, then Nick Castellanos, and after JT Realmuto scored a brace, he threw three straight quads that overwhelmed Alec Bohm.
Carlos Rodón’s 3K in 5th grade. pic.twitter.com/IW11U5VVcz
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 1, 2022
“I started a little slow, but I found a little something,” Rodón said. “I hope I can continue this until my next departure.”
In St. Louis, Rodón generated just seven sweeping strikes. When he started Friday in Cincinnati, he generated six. In his first four innings against the Phillies, which required a leaping hold at the center field wall from Mike Yastrzemski to keep his line nearly clean, he had generated four.
In round five, he generated new.
“Disgusting,” Yastrzemski said. “He’s the guy we’re used to seeing. I was really happy to see him finish that one strong.
The fifth inning was as far as Rodón got because he threw 98 pitches. He didn’t have the same tidy efficiency in third, when he needed 26 shots and Yastrzemski’s catch to limit the Phillies’ rally to a single run. He had to work for 25 pitches in the fourth because the Giants defense let him down twice.
First, Rodón picked Odubel Herrera at first base, but Wilmer Flores’ throw at second sailed into the outfield. Then, with Herrera frozen between third and home on a ground ball, third baseman Jason Vosler committed too quickly. Instead of pretending to pump or running towards Herrera to get him to commit in a direction, he threw to the plate. Herrera came back in the third sprint and managed to make it a close game. Herrera would have been out had the ball not squirted from Vosler’s glove as he attempted to apply a tag.
Herrera scored on a tight bunt, but the real damage might have been the extra shots Rodón threw.
Giants manager Gabe Kapler said it wasn’t a tough decision to take Rodón off when he did. The Giants had taken a 5-2 lead in the sixth with a five-point storm pop-up from a rally against Aaron Nola that included Flores’ three-point homer. The bottom third of the Phillies’ roster was set to come in the sixth and featured two left-handers and a switch hitter. The Giants had another left-hander ready in the bullpen, Jarlín García, who had just tied Joe Nathan’s franchise record the night before when he made his 17th appearance of the season and still hadn’t given up. earned point.
“Completely one of the easiest decisions of the year, frankly,” Kapler said, citing Rodon’s overall workload and Garcia’s success. “The most important thing we can do is protect our starters. They are so essential to our success. They were really good for us and kept us in a lot of games.
There could be some easy decisions for a major league manager. There are no guarantees. A reliever with an impeccable ERA on June 1 had a bad day, the Phillies scored García for a pair of two-run home runs and the Giants were down 6-5 while wasting a chance to sweep the series here.
It wasn’t the fresh start the Giants bullpen wanted in June after their relievers — largely unchanged from the group that led the major leagues in the bullpen ERA last season — finished May with a league-worst 6.26 ERA.
“I don’t think there’s anything to diagnose here,” Kapler said of the bullpen. “It’s not one thing in particular. It is human error. They are humans who tend to make mistakes.
It might be tempting to take a cash advance on one credit card to pay for another, and given how dominant Rodón looked in the fifth, another manager might have looked to extend him for a inning more or at least see how far a dozen more throws could catch him. Rodón will also have an extra day before starting the opener on Tuesday.
But no. Kapler said there was no point in piling the pros and cons on the scale and weighing them. In the psychological experiment of a long season, the Giants do not swallow the marshmallow.
“Carlos is a guy that we have to treat with that level of respect,” Kapler said. “When he’s super efficient and he’s got 85 or 90 pitches in the sixth or seventh, and the innings haven’t been intense, of course we’re going to give him the opportunity. Today wasn’t the day and it was not close.
“It’s a long season, so… I have to stay fresh throughout,” Rodón said. “Look, I totally agree with the decision he made. I’m not against it at all. The competitor in me, I would love to go. And I’m sure he expects it too.
The loss served as a reminder that the Giants are not day traders when it comes to using the roster. Bullpen having a tough month? They will continue to trust them. And they’re not too keen on stretching anyone out to make up for a deficiency elsewhere — especially with four months left in the season and especially with Rodón, whose medical history is what made a pitcher with his crushing stuff available. of the Giants on a short-term deal in the first place.
The Giants are 0-1 in June because of their bullpen, but the overall trend could be up. Southpaw Jake McGee had his second consecutive solid outing hitting 97 mph, a hopeful sign for a reliever who led the team in saves last season but entered this series fresh off the roster injured with an ERA of 9.58. Left pivot Jose Alvarez, their best pitcher with legacy runners, also started to perform better.
But on a night when the Giants chained the big hits and got the big defensive play that changed the momentum to win a ball game, a reliever with a 0.00 ERA hiccupped.
The Giants are in Miami to end their road trip with four games against the Marlins, who just scored 26 points in a double split at Coors Field on Wednesday. Then, when the Giants return home, Rodón will be waiting with the ball.
“The last starts haven’t been very good, as we know,” Rodón said. “But I was getting into the right position and my body was working freely and the speed started coming.”
What’s the easiest way to avoid guesswork? When you’re excited with the thought of what’s to come.
(Photo: Bill Streicher/USA Today)