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The Yankees' Carlos Rodon is a new pitcher – here's how

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The first thing the Yankees liked about the 2024 version Carlos Rodon was that he reported to spring training in January. This was an encouraging start after the disaster of last season.

The second aspect that impressed the team captains was his significantly slimmer body. And the third, as Rodon got to work, was a new pitch thrown first in the team's “gas station,” a pitching lab at the player development complex on Himes Avenue.

Rodon, whose drive for success is so great that it can sometimes hinder him, longed for a better season than 2023. Then he had responded to his new $162 million contract by making just 14 starts and posting one ERA of 6.85.

Open to new ideas, he began working on a cutter with the assistant pitching coach Desi Druschel. Rodon had earned his contract and star status with a simple but powerful fastball/slider mix, but he had long been open to adding one or more additional pitches. Now it was an urgent project.

In the gas station, the cutter showed promising characteristics, so Rodon decided to pursue it in games. The pitch improved over the spring, as did his reputation in the clubhouse, which had taken a serious hit after Rodon emerged as a popular pitching coach Matt Blake last season on the field – “He was on an island after that,” said one Yankee.

But this is a new year, Rodon is a new pitcher, and his teammates see the effort he puts into his craft and the pride he takes from it. This was a feel-good spring story that was actually authentic and applied to the reality of the season.

March 29, 2024;  Houston, Texas, USA;  New York Yankees starting pitcher Carlos Rodon (55) reacts after drawing a walk in the second inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.March 29, 2024;  Houston, Texas, USA;  New York Yankees starting pitcher Carlos Rodon (55) reacts after drawing a walk in the second inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.

Spring training brought compliments from scouts who saw a livelier fastball and sharper slider than Rodon showed in 2023. In his first regular-season start in Houston, Rodon maintained that speed and bite, albeit with erratic leadership.

He was sharper against Arizona the following week. And when Rodon threw six-plus shutout innings against Miami on Tuesday, he took a remarkable leap forward.

Forget that the rocking Marlins were apparently in a hurry to catch the early bus back to the hotel. Rodon's stuff was both sharp and surprisingly varied, regardless of the opponent.

I noticed this teammate Nestor CorteS Rodon had used his changeup effectively the night before, but in the first inning he rolled it out and struck out Josh Bell with one to finish the frame.

And even though he had never thrown a cutter between his MLB debut in 2015 and the start of this season, Rodon threw more cutters than sliders on Tuesday. One that particularly impressed the manager Aaron Boone induced Emmanuel Rivera hitting an inning-ending double play in the sixth.

“The cutter against righties is a better pitch than his curveball,” said an opposing scout. “It’s a dangerous playing field.”

Rodon now has that weapon that allows him to force right-handed batters into the ball, induce ground balls – he's never had a ground ball pitch before – and keep hitters from sitting on the same old offerings.

“I think he has real options 1712720742, and we saw that the move played a role for him,” Boone said before the game. “We saw… the breaking ball and the cutter were in play. It was a real part of his arsenal in his first two starts. Forget third – I think we’re talking third, fourth and fifth pitches that are in play a little bit without moving away from his bread and butter, the fastball/slider.”

The scout added: “He looks healthy and strong. As good as I’ve ever seen him.”

Rodon declined a verbal victory lap and made understated comments about being on the right track. In a quieter moment after his group interview, he said, “I didn't have my best speed tonight.”

That was true: His four-seam fastball averaged 94.3 in that game, a full mile per hour less than his season average (he finished the game with a pair of 96s and 97s).

But this version of Rodon doesn't necessarily need to hit the high 90s to be effective. He has options. He's closer to being a pitcher-at-large than ever before. Where he once chased raw power like the injured fastball/slider beasts Jacob deGrom And Spencer Striderhe was pitching now.

And when Boone came to take him out of the game, Rodon pleaded his case but left with a slap on the backside from the skipper and an ovation from the crowd.

He grinned. He accepted it. It was obvious that it wasn't just the pitch mix that was going in the right direction.