RALEIGH, N.C.—Since taking the loss last Sunday against Canisius, North Carolina State lefthander Carlos Rodon believes he’s improved—just not as much as he’d like.
Ideally, everything would be firing on all cylinders in three weeks, when the Notre Dame Fighting Irish come to town to open Atlantic Coast Conference play at Doak Field. However, after Friday’s outing, a 6-5 win over visiting Appalachian State that saw him allow five runs (three earned) over eight innings with nine strikeouts and two walks, Rodon says he’s “not even close at all” to that goal.
Early on, Rodon—Baseball America’s preseason pick for Pitcher of the Year—looked like the pitcher presumed by many to be the first player drafted when June comes around. He cut through the first three hitters on just 10 pitches, including two strikeouts. His fastball was consistently clocked at 93-94 with late life and his trademark slider, which some have rated as high as an 80 on the 20-80 scale, was breaking sharply in toward the feet of righthanded hitters.
“I felt a whole lot better,” Rodon said. “I felt like I had a little more velo, (was) more consistent with the fastball and (had) control of some other offspeed pitches. All around, way better.”
Toward the middle innings, however, things got a little off-kilter. Rodon lost a few ticks on his fastball, settling more toward the 90-91 range, and he struggled to find his slider’s killer bite.
With two runners on after an error by Trea Turner and a beautifully placed bunt hit, Rodon hung a slider to Jaylin Davis, who punched it into short right field for a two-run single that gave Appalachian State its first lead. That was the first slider Rodon left up, and it happened on at least one more occasion with Davis at the dish.
In the eighth, Rodon was again faced with a pair of runners on base, this time after a double by Preston Troutman just inside the first-base line and third baseman Andrew Knizner’s second error of the game. Rodon’s next pitch was a flat, middle-of-the-plate slider that Davis launched over the left-field wall for a three-run blast to get App State back within one.
Davis is no stranger to success against Rodon. In addition to driving home all five runs on Friday, Davis also swatted one of the Moutaineers’ three long balls off the lefthander when the teams met on Opening Day of last season, a 6-3 Wolfpack loss in Raleigh.
“He’s a low-ball hitter, low and in,” Rodon said. “I just hung a slider—that’s what he hit last year, he hit a slider. I was just in a groove. I kept on going, fell into the slider trap and laid it in there.”
After slamming the rosin bag on the back of the mound, Rodon found his groove again, reaching back for 93 and 94 mph fastballs and a much nastier slider to fan two of the next three hitters and finish his evening with the lead still intact.
As critical as Rodon was of himself, Wolfpack coach Elliott Avent had nothing but praise for his ace, instead hanging the blame on his team’s defense and the three errors it committed. The miscues, Avent said, cost Rodon approximately 20 pitches (he threw 108, 84 for strikes) and a shot at a complete game.
“I thought he pitched very well,” Avent said. “That’s kind of how pitched last year at the end. Last year he got off to a slow start and obviously didn’t pitch well in the first game, but that was like the Carlos of May or June, very dominant and sure of himself, a changeup very similar to the changeup I saw when he beat Cuba for Team USA in July. Worked both sides of the plate outstandingly. I thought he was very, very good.”
Rodon will have another chance to get back to the form he wants from himself on Friday, when N.C. State kicks off the Irish Classic against Michigan at Doak Field.
NOTES: Seniors D.J. Thomas and Andrew Woeck got the final three outs to seal the victory . . . Cleanup man and left fielder Bubby Riley scalded a pair of opposite-field doubles, including one that would have left the yard were it not for the elevated fence in left field, off of Mountaineers starter Jamie Nunn, who allowed just three singles otherwise . . . Catcher Brett Austin scored three of the Wolfpack’s runs . . . Rodon also picked off a runner, catching Davis after he had singled home App State’s first two runs.