ANAHEIM -- Carlos Rodon's command has improved enough lately for him to use his best out pitch more often -- a wipeout, low-90s slider, thrown hard at a right-handed hitter's back leg.
It's a devastating reverse-split pitch. No left-handed pitcher in the Major Leagues has thrown more 90-plus-mph sliders to right-handed hitters than Rodon, according to Baseball Savant's PITCHf/x data. The White Sox rookie has thrown 31 -- and 15 of them have come in his last two starts, both against the Angels. He hasn't thrown more than three in any other start.
"We got ahead, and you get 0-2, you try to bury the batter and go with the hard one -- that's the best one," Rodon said. "You get ahead, you can bust out the harder slider and let it work."
Not coincidentally, those have been two of Rodon's best starts -- seven shutout innings with 11 strikeouts on Aug. 11, followed by a tough two-run complete-game loss on Monday night. Respectively, they were the fastest and third-fastest Rodon's slider has averaged this year, per FanGraphs.
Rodon's hard slider has been basically unhittable -- on the 31 he's thrown at least 90 mph, Rodon has generated 11 swings and misses, the most common outcome. Rodon hasn't given up a hit on the pitch; only four batters have put it in play.
But Rodon mainly goes to that pitch when he's ahead in a count. It's a strikeout pitch, Rodon likes to throw it down and in, and with its speed, it's harder to command. Rodon also throws a slower, loopier mid-80s slider that he can more easily use when he's not ahead in a count. With Rodon working through command issues for much of his first season in the Major Leagues, his ability to throw his hard slider has been limited.
"The count didn't dictate that I could do it, and when you're behind it's hard to throw a harder slider for a strike," Rodon said. "You don't want to bury a guy 2-1; you're trying to get the ball over the plate."
In his last two games against the Angels, the difference has been drastic. Rodon basically made the Angels throw their reports out the window.
"In looking at his previous starts when we were scouting him, and looking at the reports and looking at all the internal numbers, you expected a guy that was going to be all over the place," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.
Instead, what they got was a pitcher who looked worthy of the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft. Rodon got ahead in counts, and the frequency with which he threw his harder, better slider reflected that. Rodon struck out Mike Trout and Albert Pujols a combined five times across the two starts on low-90s sliders.
That might have surprised Scioscia, but it was nothing new for Angels reliever Mike Morin. In college, when Rodon was the ace at N.C. State, Morin was the closer at rival North Carolina, and the two pitchers saw plenty of each other. So Morin knew exactly what the Angels would be getting.
"Hard slider. Hard, hard, hard slider," Morin said. "He's the same pitcher he was in college."
David Adler is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @_dadler. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.