GAME REPORT: Unlucky Rodon Outdueled By Watson, UCLA

CARY, N.C.—Just as was the case in his first outing against Canisius on Feb. 16, one unlucky inning did in Carlos Rodon and N.C. State on Saturday night at Coleman Field in a 2-0 loss to the UCLA Bruins, who were led by a magnificent performance from lefthander Grant Watson.

After breezing through the first inning, Rodon quickly found trouble in the second, through nearly no fault of his own. The first hitter reached on a softly struck infield single to the left side. Third baseman Andrew Knizner and shortstop Trea Turner wavered on who would field the grounder, and it was too late by the time Turner had picked up the ball and fired off-balance. The next man hit a grounder up the middle that bounced off Rodon’s glove and settled on the grass behind the mound and allowed everybody to reach safely. The play was ruled an error on Rodon, but could have gone either way.

Rodon plunked the next hitter, Christoph Bono, on an 0-2 pitch, and shortstop Trent Chatterton cashed in a few pitches later with a two-run single past first baseman Kyle Cavanaugh and into right field. Rodon allowed just one hit the rest of the way, and that came when Turner and center fielder Jake Fincher lost Pat Gallagher’s pop-up in the lights, allowing it to land untouched in short center field.

Grant Watson

Grant Watson got the better of Saturday’s matchup with Carlos Rodon. (Photo by Andrew Woolley)

The lefthander escaped further damage when he struck out the next man, Chris Keck, and Chatterton was caught stealing in a very unorthodox fashion. Brett Austin’s throw had Chatterton dead to rights at second, so Chatterton quickly ran back toward first in an attempt to get in a rundown and allow another run to score before he was tagged out. Turner, who has top-shelf speed, received Austin’s throw and ran Chatterton all the way back to first without making a throw and applied the tag well before the Bruins could tack on a third run.

Rodon’s stuff was the same as it had been in each of his first two outings: very good, with flashes of brilliance and occasionally shaky command. His fastball topped out at 94 mph, and his slider sat comfortably in the mid-80s. There were very few knockout sliders toward the back foot of righthanders, but he did finish two righties with backdoor sliders on the outside corner.

Overall, Rodon finished with seven innings, three hits, two runs (one earned), three walks and eight punchouts before giving way to Joe O’Donnell for the eighth. He struggled at times with command, as shown by the three walks and the two hit by pitches (both Bono). He’s hit five batters this season, and had another potential HBP called back when umpire John Haggerty ruled the hitter leaned into the pitch.

Watson, who drew the unenviable task of following James Kaprielian’s eight-inning, 11-strikeout masterpiece from Friday night, nearly matched his teammate. He held the Pack in check through eight frames, allowing three hits and one walk along the way. He fanned three and threw 67 of his 107 pitches for strikes. Watson, a junior who went 9-3, 3.01 in the Bruins’ championship run last season, mixed and matched all night, utilizing mainly a mid-80s fastball and a mid-70s curveball that at times broke sharply down and in on righthanders to induce weak contact and allow his stellar defense to work behind him.

Rubber-armed closer David Berg allowed the leadoff man to reach in the ninth on an infield single, but quickly wiggled out of the jam by getting a 4-3 double play from cleanup man Bubby Riley and game-sealing whiff from second baseman Logan Ratledge.

Rodon will next take the ball on Friday, when Notre Dame visits Doak Field.