NORTH PORT, Fla. — High-priced pitchers in their first season with the Yankees have been here before.
Carlos Rodon is just the latest.
CC Sabathia, who signed for $161 million before the 2009 season, didn’t make it out of the second inning of his second exhibition start, allowing five runs and six hits in 1 2/3 innings against the Tigers.
Gerrit Cole, who signed for $324 million before the 2020 season, allowed six runs and six hits, including four homers, in his third outing, also against the Tigers.
Rodon, signed in the offseason to a six-year, $162 million free-agent deal to slot into the rotation behind Cole, added his name to that list Sunday afternoon.
In his first start of spring training, Rodon allowed five runs, six hits and a walk, hit a batter and didn't make it out of the third inning in a 10-6 victory over Atlanta at CoolToday Park.
The lefthander allowed two homers — a two-run shot by lefthanded-hitting Matt Olson, who has given Rodon trouble in the past, and a two-run blast by righthanded-hitting Austin Riley in the third.
“Thank goodness,” Rodon said, “it’s spring training.”
It is an appropriate time for the obligatory interjection after this kind of performance in early March: These games don’t count, nor do the results, which are wholly irrelevant for veterans already securely on the roster, as Rodon is.
But that doesn't mean he had to like it.
Rodon already has impressed Yankees teammates with his competitiveness during bullpen sessions and simulated games. And so, even while acknowledging the meaninglessness of the mostly shoddy afternoon, he wasn't pleased, but he was able to put it in perspective.
“I sit there on the bench, and I was like, ‘OK, the game doesn't count, but I don't like losing,’ ” said Rodon, who was 14-8 with a 2.88 ERA with the Giants last season. “And then I try to tell myself, ‘OK, I paced myself, I made some pitches.’ And then I got humbled a little bit. So I kind of needed that. I got the work I needed. And it's kind of one of those things where I just look forward to the next one. And hopefully I can put together results plus execution and be better than that.”
Rodon, a power pitcher who throws an exceptional four-seam fastball, is a bit behind with his fastball velocity. The pitch sat in the range of 91 to 95 mph Sunday, though the majority of those were in the low 90s. That's typical for Rodon at this time of year.
“The thing I don't want him to do is start reaching because he's supposed to be throwing 96, 97, 98,” Aaron Boone said. “This is in line with where he is every spring [with velocity], so I don't want him to come to feel like he's got to impress us on March 5, overdo it and then get in a bad spot mechanically. My message to him is just stay in your mechanics and execute and you'll get to that spot as you continue to work and hopefully as the month unfolds, he’ll start climbing up to that point.”
After Ronald Acuna Jr., in the pitcher's words, “ambushed” the first pitch he saw in the third inning for a double, Rodon felt frustration at the lack of velocity.
“I wanted to reach back and throw harder, but I told myself to just trust the process,” he said. “A younger me would have said, ‘[The heck with] that, I’m going to throw one as hard as I can right here.’ I’m glad I didn’t do that.”
Catcher Kyle Higashioka said there’s no reason to be concerned.
“It’s getting there,” he said. “He’s not there yet in midseason form, but you could see flashes of it. The important thing for him is that he doesn't try to do too much early because we’re not trying to win the Grapefruit League, we’re looking to win the World Series.”