Changeup key as Rodon develops further

Southpaw establishing himself as solid No. 3 starter behind Sale, Quintana

Changeup key as Rodon develops further

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It's fairly logical to draw comparisons between Chris Sale and Carlos Rodon.

Both are first-round selections of the White Sox, with Rodon going No. 3 overall in the 2014 Draft and Sale going off the board at No. 13 in '10. Rodon had 34 1/3 innings of Minor League experience, spread out over two seasons, before his big league promotion, while Sale needed 10 1/3 innings before joining the White Sox the same season he was drafted.

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The southpaws with top-of-the-rotation stuff started in relief, but the quick in-season change by Rodon to the rotation, where he made 23 starts in 2015, marks a noticeable difference from Sale's path.

"He's got a little bit more on his plate than I did, only because he was a starter from the beginning," said Sale of Rodon, who had three games in relief and then moved into the rotation. "I had a couple of seasons, a year and a half in the bullpen, to kind of get my feet wet.

"Things start unraveling in the bullpen on you, someone else can come in and clean it up. As a starter, you're held accountable for, at the very least, at the absolute minimum, five innings. Things start unraveling, and you have to get yourself out of it.

"That's where I was kind of the beach entrance," added a smiling Sale, "and he's going off the high dive."

Rodon adjusted to the choppy waters once he dove in. He allowed two earned runs or fewer in each of his past eight starts in 2015, walking 21 and fanning 49 over 54 2/3 innings during that stretch. Fastball location is important to any hurler, let alone a 23-year-old such as Rodon, and he already possesses an elite-level slider.

But much like in Sale's ascension and development within the rotation, Rodon's changeup becomes crucial in taking that next step. It's a feel pitch and one he's feeling more comfortable with as he throws it often during Spring Training.

"It's like riding a bike almost," said Rodon, who threw the change 8.7 percent of the time last season, in comparison to the slider at 30.6, per FanGraphs. "It's just getting the feel back from throwing it. Just keep throwing it when I play catch every day, in the sides, in the games, especially in these Spring Training games. That's what will make it better."

Sale said that the key to the changeup is throwing it with the same conviction as the fastball while changing the grip. He has no doubt Rodon will pick up that pitch, especially with the stuff he already features, making for a solid 1-2-3 punch with Sale and Jose Quintana.

"He adapted, he really did. He adjusted," Sale said of Rodon's rookie season. "We saw what happened early on, and once he started realizing, 'Hey, if I throw strikes, my stuff plays here,' he started throwing more strikes and filling up the zone. Even when he got into trouble, he got himself out."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin, on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.