CHICAGO -- Putting two runners on base in front of Mike Trout and Albert Pujols seems as ideal as hoping to get somewhere quickly during Chicago rush hour.
Add in that this situation came with nobody out, to start the game between the White Sox and Angels on Tuesday night at U.S. Cellular Field and on the heels of two straight rough starts for Carlos Rodon, and it was easy to see how the rookie was in serious trouble just eight pitches into the contest. Yet, when the final statistics were totaled, Rodon set career highs in innings (seven) and strikeouts (11) in leading his team to a 3-0 victory.
Rodon not only escaped the first inning, but thrived.
"Yeah, you could say that," said Rodon of the first-inning impetus. "You walk the first guy and then you've got to hone in on the strike zone and just try to make pitches."
"You don't want to have guys on base for those two," White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers said. "But again, he did a nice job executing pitches after that to get himself out of trouble."
Shane Victorino opened the game by drawing a seven-pitch walk. With White Sox manager Robin Ventura wanting Rodon to attack the strike zone more consistently and pulling him after just 81 pitches in his last start against the Rays, this trip to the mound could have gone sideways in a hurry.
But after Kole Calhoun's opposite-field single to left, Rodon caught Trout looking on a 3-2 slider to end another seven-pitch at-bat. He then struck out Pujols swinging with a slider and ended the inning on Erick Aybar's 3-2 fly out to left fielder Trayce Thompson, on another slider.
"We started off OK," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He made some pitches in the first inning to Mike and to Albert, and actually to Erick, after we set the table to get out of some damage there. You could see the stuff is live coming out of his arm. He settled in, worked ahead in the count and we didn't get too many good looks at him."
"He was drafted third for a reason last summer," said Thompson, whose first career homer supported Rodon's mound dominance. "One of the most talented pitchers, not just here but in the American League. He's amazing."
There won't be much time for Rodon to celebrate what was the best start of his career. He gets to face this same Angels lineup Monday night in Anaheim.
That first-inning recovery propelled Rodon on Tuesday and should carry him confidently into California.
"I thought he handled it great," said Ventura of Rodon's first-inning adventure. "From then on, I don't think there was the question of trying to feel for it. He was just letting it go."
"I've been trying to get seven innings this whole year and it just hadn't been happening for me," Rodon said. "So, it's good to finally get that in."