Rodon at home at the DBAP
For the second time in two months Carlos Rodon was untouchable on the mound at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. This time he earned the win.
The lefthander pitched 6.2 shutout innings, allowing two hits and striking out 11 as Team USA defeated Cuba 5-3 to sweep the five-game exhibition series between the two countries’ national teams.
At the ACC Tournament on May 25, Rodon pitched 10 one-hit innings against UNC, allowing one unearned run and striking out 14, but North Carolina won 2-1 in 18 innings.
Combined with Rodon’s regular-season start against Duke eight days before the ACC marathon, where he struck out 15 Blue Devils in nine innings, he has 40 strikeouts in three 2013 starts at the DBAP. By comparison, the Durham Bulls’ strikeout leader, Jake Odorizzi, has just 48 strikeouts in nine starts at the DBAP this year.
“Everything was working,” Rodon said. “Fastball, curve ball, slider. I got ahead early and got their bats swinging.”
Rodon forced Cuba to swing and miss badly on his slider and changeup, getting nine of his 11 strikeouts on swinging strike threes.
Team USA manager Jim Schlossnagle compared Rodon’s development to Tampa Bay ace David Price, who won the Cy Young Award last season. Price played for Schlossnagle on Team USA one summer.
“David’s obviously taller,” Schlossnagle said. “He has a different body, a maybe a little more fastball command at the same age, but he didn’t have the overhand curve that Carlos throws. Today, Carlos’ changeup was better than David’s ever was that summer.”
Schlossnagle also said that Price didn’t have Rodon’s slider, which he compared to Hall of Famer Steve Carlton.
“It’s a special pitch,” Schlossnagle said. “The sign of an elite pitcher is when you get them to change their swings. They think they’re on that pitch and they’re not close.”
Team USA gave Rodon an early lead, scoring in the first inning on an RBI double by Oregon State’s Michael Conforto.
Rodon’s college teammate, Trea Turner manufactured Team USA’s second run. Turner walked to lead off the fifth, then stole second on the next pitch. He advanced to third on a pitch that got away from Cuba’s catcher, Lorenzo Quintana, and scored on Alex Bregman’s sacrifice fly to short centerfield.
Turner singled and scored in the seventh as well. He’s hitting .211 (16-for-76) in 20 games for Team USA this summer. UNC’s Skye Bolt struck out in a pinch-hitting appearance. He’s hitting .120 (3-for-25) in 12 games.
Rodon struck out seven of the first nine batters he faced. Sixty three of his 82 pitches were strikes, and 42 were over 90 mph, topping out at 96 mph. Rodon moved to 3-0 in four starts for Team USA. In 17 shutout innings with the national team, Rodon allowed just six hits and struck out 21.
“I’ve always heard about his warrior mentality,” Schlossnagle said. “You saw that today.”
“He was unbelievable,” Turner said of his Wolfpack teammate. “He’s only getting better, which is scary.”
Cuban pinch hitter Lazaro Herrera hit a pinch-hit three-run home run in the eighth off the University of Miami’s Chris Diaz to cut Team USA’s lead to 5-3 and provide Cuba’s lone offensive highlight of the night
Cuban starter Vladimir Garcia, who played in the World Baseball Classic this spring, took the loss after allowing a run in one inning. Arizona State’s Ryan Burr pitched the ninth for the save, his sixth for Team USA this year.
The United States won all five games of the international friendship series, which also featured two games in Omaha and single games in Des Moines and Cary. It’s the first time Cuba’s national team has played in the United States since 1996. Team USA won the first four games by one-run margins, two in extra innings.
Cuban players made the most of their trip to the States, shopping for electronics and trying to acquire everything from team USA jerseys to sneakers. “They want to trade for anything,” Team USA manager Jim Schlossnagle said after a Cuban player approached him during pregame, trying to negotiate for his batting practice jersey.
But Rodon got the night’s most important souvenir. As fireworks lit up the sky and Rodon signed autographs for young fans, Schlossnagle took the lineup card off the dugout wall and presented it to his winning pitcher after the game.
“He was fun to watch,” Schlossnagle said.