RALEIGH — N.C. State lefthander Carlos Rodon leads the NCAA in strikeouts, has won his past five starts and was named first-team All-ACC on Monday for the second straight year.
All that sounds impressive, but Rodons second season has been anything but like the first.
Rodon has lost games. Hes lost patience at times. There have been games in which the sophomore has given up runs in bunches.
"It was a little different," Rodon said Monday. "I had to accept some failure. I learned a lot."
Asked what he has learned, Rodon smiled and replied, "Youre not going to win every game. Thats the first thing I learned."
Rodon, in fact, lost the first game of the season. After going 9-0 as a freshman with a 1.57 earned run average and 135 strikeouts, he was touched for five hits and five runs by Appalachian State in a 6-3 loss in the opener at Doak Field.
Rodon bounced back to strike out 14 against LaSalle and then a career high 16 against Florida Atlantic, but there would be more rough outings once the ACC season began -- against Clemson, Boston College.
"Im not saying its a good thing, but failure helps," Rodon said. "You have to keep your composure and compete. I gave up three home runs to App State. I had a rough first inning. But I had to come back out and try to compete for my team. Just because you give up some runs doesnt mean you are going to lose that ball game. Stay focused.
Wolfpack shortstop Trea Turner said opposing teams often have taken a different approach with Rodon this season.
"Youve seen teams take (pitches) and try to get walks out of him," Turner said. "Then youve seen teams try to swing first pitch and try to get to him early. Hes definitely battled. Hats off to him because hes been pitching very well lately."
For Rodon (8-2), the ACC game April 20 at Georgia Tech may have been a turning point. He went nine strong innings, giving up two runs and fanning 10 in a 6-2 win.
Next was North Carolina. Against the Tar Heels, then ranked No. 1, Rodon again had 10 strikeouts in a 7-3 victory.
After beating Presbyterian, Rodon gutted out a 3-1 victory over Florida State, striking out eight in eight innings. Then came a pitching line against Duke on Saturday that Rodon called "weird."
The Blue Devils scored four runs in the third and added another two in the fifth in building a 6-3 lead. But NCSU coach Elliott Avent stuck with Rodon.
By game's end, Rodon had 15 Ks, pushing his season total to 137, tops in NCAA Division I. The Pack clawed out a 7-6 win.
"Not many people would have come back from that kind of start, or be allowed to stay in and come back from it," Avent said. "But he settled in. From the fifth inning to the ninth, Im not sure Ive seen him more dominant."
Avent said the decision to rest the southpaw this past fall had an effect. Rodon pitched 114 2-3 innings for the Pack as a freshman, when he was the ACC pitcher of the year and everybodys All-American, then another 19 innings for USA Baseballs Collegiate National Team in competition last summer in Cuba and The Netherlands.
"He accumulated too many innings," Avent said. "I think in the shutdown he lost some preparation in the fall that hurt him in the spring, especially in the beginning."
Rodon and Turner again have been selected to play for the Collegiate National Team this summer, but Avent noted of the plans for Rodon, "We probably wont shut him down next fall."
Rodon said he didnt throw until late-December and didnt throw off a mound until mid-January, saying, "Thats when I got my arm going again."
Mostly, Rodon did some hitting in fall ball and spent time improving his conditioning running, lifting weights, cardiovascular work.
"All the fun stuff everybody loves to do," he said, grinning.
But Rodon now appears to be back in form on the mound, back in "beast mode," as he calls it. In his past five starts, he has allowed 11 earned runs in 39 2-3 innings, with 52 strikeouts and 11 walks.
Against Florida State, Rodon had a pitch clocked at 101 mph. He has been strong late in games, his velocity remaining high.
"It took a while to come back and get the arm strength," he said. "Now Im seeing the velo I had last year, which is good to see."
The ninth-ranked Wolfpack (42-13, 19-10 ACC) goes into the ACC Championship this week in Durham having won 24 of its past 27 games. The Pack opens pod play against Clemson on Wednesday, then faces Miami on Friday. Rodon likely will not pitch until Saturday, when the Pack faces UNC.
The Pack and Tar Heels went at it in the ACC tournament last year in Greensboro. The Heels won 4-0 in 12 innings after Rodon started and fanned 12 in nine scoreless innings, giving up just four hits.
"That was probably one of the best games Ive pitched," Rodon said. "Should be a fun one this weekend."
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