On a deliberate route back to the Major Leagues, Carlos Rodon’s injury rehabilitation tour made a stop close to home on Friday night.
The Durham Bulls Athletic Park surroundings were comfortable for the former N.C. State pitcher but the results weren’t what he preferred.
The Chicago White Sox left-hander from Holly Springs rolled through the first three innings allowing just one hit, but a four-pitch walk ignited Durham’s seven-run fourth inning as the Bulls beat the Charlotte Knights 9-4 before a crowd of 8,748.
“I felt good,” Rodon said. “Everything seemed to be there. But they swung it well so hats off to them. They came out swinging the bats.”
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The No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft after a Wolfpack career that included a College World Series appearance, Rodon pitched with the White Sox in 2015 and 2016. But left biceps bursitis afflicted him in the spring and he’s yet to throw a pitch in the big leagues.
Friday’s night’s performance featured a fastball reaching as high as 96 mph and effective breaking pitches.
That is until things came unraveled in the fourth inning.
“He was nasty,” Durham Bulls manager Jared Sandberg said. “For us to take advantage of their mistakes and string some big hits together off him was good because he was nasty.”
Rodon rolled through the first three innings nearly unscathed. The only hit the Bulls collected came in the first inning when Knights right fielder Rymer Liriano lost the ball in the sun on Willy Adames’ line drive. That resulted in a one-out triple. Adames scored when Bauers grounded out on a high chopper back to Rodon for a 1-0 Bulls lead.
That groundout started a streak of 10 consecutive batters Rodon retired. That included an Adames strikeout on three pitches to start the fourth inning.
Then, suddenly, Rodon’s night went haywire. Some of it was his fault with two walks. Some of it fell on his defense, which committed two errors behind him. Some of it was the Bulls, who had four hits in the inning.
Rodon started the trouble by walking a left-handed batter, Bauers, on four pitches.
“That stings a little bit,” Rodon said. “That’s on me. Those things can’t happen.”
Seven more Bulls batters reached before another out was recorded. Casey Gillaspie’s two-run double to the corner in right field was the first big blow. Johnny Field’s well-struck, two-out, two-run double knocked in the inning’s final two runs.
Sandberg said once the Bulls realized how strong Rodon could be with two strikes, they took a more aggressive approach.
“We stayed in attack mode once we saw Rodon, with two strikes, was going to be devastating,” Sandberg said. “We started getting to him early on.”
Rodon allowed eight runs (seven earned) on five hits over 4 1/3 innings. He struck out seven and walked two.
The aim, though, is for Rodon to get healthy so he can return to the White Sox rotation before the Major League All-Star break.
Friday night was Rodon’s third rehabilitation start for Charlotte and he’s progressively thrown more pitches each time. It’s more important that he’s thrown 84, 89 and 91 pitches in his three Knights starts than the fact that he’s 0-3 with a 9.22 ERA. He also allowed five runs on four hits during a 71-pitch start for Single-A Winston-Salem against the Carolina Mudcats in Zebulon earlier this month.
Rodon used his slider more Friday night than he had previously and felt the location and command were strong despite the results. He feels healthy, strong and ready to return to the White Sox whenever they are ready.
“My arm is coming back,” Rodon said. “Everything seems healthy. Today was a big step. I’m ready to go back up there. It’s just up to them.”