Carlos Rodon

The White Sox’s plan that can make Carlos Rodon an elite pitcher

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Carlos Rodon’s plus fastball and elite slider are probably enough to get him by in the majors in the estimation of one talent evaluator.

But a month into his professional career the White Sox and their top prospect have made the improvement of Rodon’s changeup one a priority.

Rodon — the third overall pick in June’s amateur draft — believes command of his changeup will make him a better major leaguer, whenever the White Sox decide to make that happen.

The left-handed pitcher out of North Carolina State is already viewed as a great talent: MLB.com rates him the No. 22 prospect in baseball while ESPN’s Keith Law ranked him No. 10 last month. Baseball America’s JJ Cooper unofficially has Rodon rated between 40-45.

But if Rodon can hone his changeup, he’s capable of reaching the next level, MLB.com’s Jim Callis said.

“To some extent he probably could live off the fastball and the slider because the slider is that good that hitters can’t really sit on the fastball,” Callis said. “The changeup is just going to mess with guys more and I think the changeup is what makes him an elite pitcher.”

[RELATED: Hahn says Rodon could be in White Sox 2015 rotation]

When he helped lead N.C. State to the College World Series in 2013 with 184 strikeouts in 132 1/3 innings as a sophomore, Rodon set some nearly impossible standards for himself.

He only added to those expectations, ones Rodon said in June he “didn’t live up to,” with a dominant performance for Team USA against Cuba. Callis didn’t attend the exhibition but said evaluators there for the 11-strikeout game believed Rodon could have won in the majors that night, in part because he showed an outstanding changeup.

Headed into 2014, Rodon was viewed as the consensus No. 1 player in the draft and one American League scout said Rodon was already a “top 10 pitcher on the planet.”

But the combo of a 6-7 record and a disappointing season for the Wolfpack affected Rodon’s draft value, even though he lowered his ERA from 2.99 in 2013 to 2.01.

Callis thinks NC State asked Rodon to rely on his slider too much early in the season and that led to less command and reduced velocity of a fastball that MLB.com ranked 65 on the 20-80 scouting scale. MLB.com grades his slider a 70 while his changeup, which Rodon said he rarely used his junior season, is a 50.

Since he signed a franchise-record $6.582 million bonus on July 11, much of the work Rodon has done surrounds his changeup as well as fastball command. Whether playing catch, in bullpen sessions or in games, Rodon estimates he has thrown double or triple the amount of changeups he did in college.

“I’ve had to make a couple of adjustments to pro ball as far as pitching and pitch sequences,” Rodon said. “I understand now that anyone can hit a fastball and I have to use those offspeed pitches to compliment the fastball. I’ve been relying heavily on the changeup recently and it’s working out pretty good for me.

“It’s just getting a feel for the pitch and constantly throwing it.”

[RELATED: Chris Sale’s advice to Rodon? Keep it simple]

Rodon — who struck out three over three scoreless innings on Thursday and will start again Wednesday for Single-A Winston-Salem — threw five or six changeups in his 39 pitches and said it’s the best he has felt with it so far.

Prior to him joining the White Sox, minor-league pitching coordinator Curt Hasler hadn’t seen much of Rodon’s changeup.

So far Hasler, who has been on hand for three of Rodon’s five appearances, including Thursday, has been impressed.

“I saw the fastball, the good life on the fastball, the plus-plus slider,” Hasler said. “I didn’t see a lot of changeups so I didn’t really know what to expect. But from Day One when I saw his changeup, I told (Single-A pitching coach J.R. Perdew), ‘Wow, that’s a good changeup.’ It’s almost like maybe he didn’t need it before.

“He threw it five or six times the other day in the game. We saw a handful of really good ones that day. It’s making a lot of progress. He knows exactly what he’s going to have to do with all those pitches.”

Callis said it’s all part of the package the White Sox received when Rodon slipped to them at No. 3. Having thrown several high-profile games over the last three years, Rodon has valuable experience on big stages to pair with a good pitching mentality.

“He knows there’s more than just rearing back and trying to throw the ball by guys,” Callis said. “He’s also got the confidence without being cocky although he probably straddled cocky a little bit in a good way. He’s got everything you want. He’s got the stuff. He understands what he needs to do. He’s really highly competitive.”

Even though he has the confidence he is close to, if not, ready for the majors, Rodon isn’t worried. He tries to focus on the things he can control, even when manager Robin Ventura said there’s a better than average chance Rodon could pitch in the big leagues this season. Rodon said he would leave that decision for “the bosses up there” and only wants to further develop his game, especially the changeup.

“I’m throwing it while I’m playing catch, throw it in the pen for sides and the game, as it comes along,” Rodon said. “My last outing, I had a pretty good feel for it and it’s only getting better.

“I’m starting to get that command back and that feel for everything. You get a little breakthrough every time you pitch and I hit one this last outing. I’m getting there.”

Braves’ Markakis misses game because of family emergency

Nick Markakis, Nick Swisher
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NEW YORK (AP) Braves right fielder Nick Markakis has left the team because of a family emergency.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez said before Wednesday’s game against the Mets that Markakis had headed home to Maryland. The veteran is expected to be back in time for Friday’s home game against Arizona. Atlanta is off Thursday.

Chase d’Arnaud is starting in right field and Mallex Smith is leading off Wednesday.

Markakis is hitting .281 with no home runs and 20 RBIs.

Report: more major league PED suspensions coming soon

FILE - In this May 30, 2007 file photo a blister with the steroid Oral-Turinabol is displayed in Dresden, eastern Germany. Oral-Turinabol was the main drug in the state-controlled doping in former East Germany.    (AP Photo/Matthias Rietschel, file)
Associated Press
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T.J. Quinn of ESPN’s Outside the Lines reports that another major leaguer — or possibly several of them — will soon be suspended for PEDs. He says that, as was the case with Chris Colabello and others recently, the drug will be Turinabol, which is an old school anabolic steroid. Quinn says that improved testing procedures, which he details in the article, are a likely reason for the spike in Turinabol positives, though it’s also possible that there is a tainted supplement being taken, though he deems that speculative.

What isn’t mentioned is . . . how an ESPN reporter knows a positive test is coming when the drug testing program is supposed to be confidential. Someone with the league or the union must be telling him, right? That’s sort of messed up, no? Will MLB investigate who is leaking such things?

Whatever the case, we’ll soon have a new police blotter item, it seems.

What’s on Tap: Previewing Wednesday’s afternoon action

Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Felix Hernandez gives a thumbs-up as he is pulled from the team's baseball game against the Kansas City Royals in the eighth inning, Friday, April 29, 2016, in Seattle. The Mariners won 1-0. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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Wednesday usually means day baseball and today we have seven games on tap before the cocktail hour. Well, before most people’s cocktail hour. Do what you want but some of us have fewer hangups about such things. Working at home is amazing, you guys.

The most notable thing of today’s pitching matchups is that, because of staggered days off, skipped starts and stuff, we’re finally out of that lockstep, early-season thing in which aces face aces all the time. That’s fun and everything — it’s great for the fans — but I bet it annoys the pitchers to some degree. Felix Hernandez vs. Sonny Gray is a marquee matchup. But I bet Felix is happy to be facing Sean Manaea in his second-ever big league start as opposed to a dude who might match zeros with him. Ohio State schedules MAC schools for many of the same reasons.

Anyway, here are the matchups. Skip work, tell your boss you’ve gotta see a guy about a thing and watch baseball. In your heart you know it’s the right thing to do:

Chicago Cubs (Jon Lester) @ Pittsburgh Pirates (Juan Nicasio), 12:35 PM EDT, PNC Park;

San Francisco Giants (Jake Peavy) @ Cincinnati Reds (Dan Straily), 12:35 PM EDT, Great American Ball Park

Atlanta Braves (Jhoulys Chacin) @ New York Mets (Steven Matz), 1:10 PM EDT, Citi Field

Los Angeles Angels (Hector Santiago) @ Milwaukee Brewers (Zach Davies), 1:40 PM EDT, Miller Park

Washington Nationals (Stephen Strasburg) @ Kansas City Royals (Kris Medlen), 2:15 PM EDT, Kauffman Stadium

Seattle Mariners (Felix Hernandez) @ Oakland Athletics (Alex Manaea), 3:35 PM EDT, Oakland Coliseum

Colorado Rockies (Tyler Chatwood) @ San Diego Padres (Cesar Vargas), 3:40 PM EDT, Petco Park

Is Bud Black the favorite to be the next Braves manager?

Bud Black
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We talked last week about how Fredi Gonzalez is likely a dead man walking as the Braves manager. They stink, he’s a lame duck and part of the team’s whole marketing thrust is “2017 will be a new beginning,” what with the new ballpark and all. It stands to reason that Mr. Gonzalez doesn’t have long for this world.

Last week I suspected he’d be fired tomorrow, the Braves off day before a home stand. They’ve won in the past week, but it still wouldn’t shock me. Even if firing Gonzalez would be an act of scapegoating. It’s the roster that’s the problem, not the manager, even though Fredi doesn’t exactly inspire anyone.

Today Bob Nightengale throws this into the mix:

As of yet he hasn’t followed that up with an actual column or more tweets about who, exactly, considers Black to be the heavy favorite, but there’s a definitiveness to that which makes me think he’s heard something solid.

Black, as you know, was the long time Padres manager who had an unsuccessful flirtation with the Nationals before they hired Dusty Baker this past offseason. Black is now cooling his heels with his longtime boss Mike Scioscia in Anaheim, in what is clearly a “wait for his next managing opportunity” posture.

Could it be in Atlanta? At least one national writer and some nebulous group of insiders believe so, it would seem.