DURHAM, N.C.--Carlos Rodon admitted he has developed a special affinity for Durham Bulls Athletic Park. It’s where the North Carolina State lefthander pitched 10 dominating innings against North Carolina in an Atlantic Coast Conference tournament game, striking out 14. It’s also where he posed with Wolfpack teammate and roommate Trea Turner and North Carolina’s Kent Emanuel and Colin Moran back in January for the cover of BA’s College Preview issue.
It’s where his 2013 season ended, in a start against Cuba at the end of the summer schedule for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team. And Tuesday night, it was once again the scene of another Rodon masterpiece.
“I love this ballpark,” Rodon said with a smile after his performance Tuesday, when he tossed 6 2/3 scoreless innings, giving up just two hits and striking out 11 in a dominating shutdown of Cuba. The Collegiate National Team had its biggest offensive outburst to back him and won the fifth and final game of the series with Cuba 5-3, sweeping the series. It’s the first five-game sweep for a USA Collegiate National Team against Cuba.
The CNT finishes with a 20-3 record for the summer, with the only three losses coming in a five-game series in Japan. Team USA won all five games against Cuba, but all the games were close, with one-run wins in the opener in Des Moines, Iowa, as well as two games in Omaha. The Americans won by a single run Monday, 3-2 at USA Baseball’s National Training Complex in Cary, N.C., before ending the summer with Rodon’s firepower, five runs and fireworks Tuesday.
“It was an awesome way to end the summer,” said closer Ryan Burr (Arizona State), a freshman who struck out two of the game’s last three batters to notch the save, his sixth of the summer. “This was a snapshot of our entire summer--great pitching, timely hitting, just playing USA Baseball. It was awesome to be able to do it with a nice crowd in this great ballpark, against a great team like Cuba.”
Coach Jim Schlossnagle (Texas Christian) addressed his team on its last day off, when it was coming to North Carolina after winning the first three games of the series in the Midwest. He was pleased the Americans had won the series but challenged to see if his team could do something no other U.S. club had done--sweep a five-game set. They came through for him with defensive execution, making only one error in the five-game series and none in the final two games.
“We knew the goals at the start of the year were to win the Japan series (in Japan), which hasn’t been done in 40 years, and to win this Cuba series,” Schlossnagle said. “When we didn’t win the series in Japan, the guys were disappointed--really disappointed. We talked about it every day. We said, ‘Hey, the only way to make up for it is to win this Cuba series.'”
Tuesday, they did it behind Rodon, who was in such command that N.C. State coach Elliott Avent, who was in attendance, said it was likely the best Rodon ever had thrown. The lefthander hit 96 mph on the stadium radar gun and sat at 93-95 mph with his fastball, commanding it more than usual. He also had excellent command of his power slider, which regularly hit 87, and his 89-90 mph cutter. Rodon added a changeup that Avent said was the best he’s ever thrown.
“I had David Price in 2006 (with Team USA), and David and Carlos have some similarities,” Schlossnagle said. “The bodies are different, but both guys were really fastball-slider guys. David had maybe a little bit better fastball command at a similar stage (of development), but he didn’t have that overhand power breaking ball like Carlos has. And tonight Carlos’ changeup was better than what David threw at that time. (Mississippi coach) Mike Bianco and Carlos have worked on that this summer and you saw tonight, Carlos really threw some nice changeups.”
Rodon finished the season 3-0 in four outings for the CNT, tossing 17 scoreless innings and allowing just five hits and four walks while striking out 21. He led the way as the U.S. pitching staff posted a 1.87 ERA over 23 games, with 222 strikeouts and 64 walks in 197 innings.
“It was a great experience with a great group of guys,” Rodon said. “We had a bunch of all-stars on that team, and we played some good baseball. Overall, it was a lot of fun.”
The American offense had its best game of the series, getting a pair of doubles from Michael Conforto (Oregon State), one of five players with an RBI. Turner scored two runs and had a stolen base out of the leadoff spot, and corner infielder Taylor Sparks (UC Irvine), who played first base Tuesday after playing third on Monday, had an infield hit in the finale and finished the summer batting a team-best .396 in 53 at-bats.