There is one guaranteed way to get Carlos Rodon talking about baseball: Bring up the topic of pitch counts.
Specifically ask the N.C. State junior about ESPN draft analyst Keith Law or Sports on Earth writer Mike Piellucci.
After a 134-pitch outing against Duke on April 11, Law pointed out that total was only matched by one major-league pitcher in 2013 and only four since 2010. Rodon has hit the 130-pitch mark six times in three seasons, including 132 against Georgia Tech on April 25.
Piellucci piggy-backed Law’s data about pitch counts and argued that Rodon was one of the big-picture problems with the NCAA’s amateur model. These type of evaluations and assumptions are part of the reason Rodon would rather throw a 92 mile-per-hour slider than talk about it.
“They don’t know the inside of my arm,” Rodon said earlier in May, specifically calling out Law. “They don’t understand the way I throw. Maybe they do understand the mechanical situation but they don’t understand how my arm works or if I’m feeling tired.
“They’ve never come up to me and been like, Are you tired? Do you get worn out at 132 pitches?
“If you ask me, if you look at the pitch counts and I’m at 132 pitches (vs. Georgia Tech) and my last fastball is at 95 mph, that speaks for itself.”
After this mini soliloquy, Rodon is asked: Well, are you tired?
“No, not at all,” he said. “I’m not.”
But there’s a downside to the wear and tear. The Houston Astros have the No. 1 overall pick in Thursday’s draft and are reportedly leaning toward prep left-hander Brady Aiken, in part because he has less mileage on his arm than Rodon.
Rodon has thrown 5,375 pitches in three seasons at N.C. State. He averaged 113 per start this season over 13 starts. According to BaseballReference.com, Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander led the majors with 109 pitches per start.
Rodon quickly points out the flaw in comparing his pitch total to major-leaguers. He only pitches once per week, while major-leaguers throw once every five days and over a longer season (Verlander threw 3,692 pitches in 2013, compared to 2,094 by Rodon).
The Sports on Earth article is critical of N.C. State coach Elliott Avent, but Rodon’s father, Carlos Sr., said his son wasn’t misused or abused by N.C. State.
“I can tell you this for a fact, he will not let anyone abuse him,” Rodon’s father said. “He’s that strong-headed and stubborn. If you make him do something, he’s not going to do it. He’s only going to do it if he wants to do it.”
Avent said not all pitchers are built the same and that argued that Rodon actually got better the more he pitched.
“Some guys get stronger the more they throw, that’s Carlos,” Avent said. “He’s like Nolan Ryan, if you want to get to him, you have to get to him early.”
Ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction in the elbow, or Tommy John surgery, has almost become a right of passage for the best young pitchers in the majors.
Stephen Strasburg, the No. 1 overall pick by the Washington Nationals in 2009 draft, had the surgery in 2010, after a truncated major-league debut.
Matt Harvey, the right-hander from UNC and seventh pick of the 2010 draft, had surgery this past October and is expected to miss the entire 2014 season.
The Miami Marlins, who own the second pick in this draft, recently lost 21-year-old pitcher Jose Fernandez to the same surgery.
If Rodon’s on a collision course for the surgery, he’s not acting like it or expecting it.
“The way I look at it is my arm’s not like Matt Harvey’s, my arm’s not like Stephen Strasburg’s, my arm’s not like any other pitcher that has had (Tommy John) surgery,” he said.