Cary News: Sports

N.C. State freshman pitcher makes impact

N.C. State’s Carlos Rodon describes himself as a mild-mannered type, but says that changes quickly when he crosses the line.

That is, the first-base line. When Rodon walks to the mound, the freshman pitcher transforms himself.

“Beast Mode.” That’s what Rodon calls it.

“Kind of like an alter ego,” Rodon said. “I’m not the same when I’m on the field as when I’m off the field.

“I try to bring a bulldog mentality. I’m aggressive. I’m an average, normal, every-day person off the field, just trying to be nice.”

Rodon is anything but nice on the mound. The lefthander, a power pitcher whose fastball has serious heat, has a 7-0 record and a 1.23 earned-run average that is fifth-best in NCAA Division I.

Consider that a year ago, when Rodon pitched Holly Springs High to the state 4-A championship, he had a 1.40 ERA. Isn’t college baseball supposed to be a step up in competition?

“I was kind of nervous at first,” Rodon said. “My first game was kind of nerve-wracking.”

That was in the Pack’s season-opener, Feb. 17 against Marshall. Wolfpack coach Elliott Avent brought in Rodon in relief, and Rodon struck out the first three batters he faced.

So much for nerves.

“I was just comfortable from there,” Rodon said. “I just do what I can do and stay within myself and play at 100 percent every game.”

Rodon, who on Monday was named ACC pitcher of the week, is an imposing sight on the mound. He’s listed at 6-3 and 234 pounds, looks all of it and derives power from thick legs and good core strength.

“The great thing about him is his consistency and the way he competes,” Avent said. “He competes at a very high level.

“Obviously he’s got great stuff. It starts with a 90-plus (mph) fastball and a cutter that can be anywhere from 85 to 88 (mph). But his competitive nature and him wanting the ball ... you almost have to beg him to come out of the game.”

Avent had that conversation recently in the ACC series at Clemson. Rodon, the Pack’s Saturday starter much of the season, had thrown 120 pitches through eight innings and Rodon didn’t want to give up the ball.

“I said, ‘That’s it’ and he said, ‘What do you mean that’s it?’ ” Avent said. ‘He said, ‘Coach, you saw me last inning, I’m cruising right now.’ ”

Cruising or not, Rodon came out – having fanned eight – and the Pack won 3-1. He does have one complete game this season and his 73.3 innings pitched top the ACC.

Rodon has 85 strikeouts, although Duke’s Marcus Stroman leads the ACC with 102. Rodon is giving up 6.02 hits per nine innings. mixing a fastball, cutter, curve, slider and a changeup he has improved this season and crafted into another out pitch.

Rodon said his “beast-mode” approach is a takeoff on Matt Kemp of the Los Angeles Dodgers – one of his favorite players – and the “Beast Mode Never Sleeps” commercial Kemp made for Major League Baseball.

Rodon can be rather beastly on the mound.

It was clear Rodon was not happy Saturday, tossing his hat when the decision was made to stop the Boston College game in the sixth inning because of rain. But he continued to pitch after a 40-minute delay, allowing five hits and striking out 10 over eight innings in a 9-0 win.

In ACC games, Rodon is 5-0 with a 1.39 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 53.3 innings

“I show emotion but I’ve been working on that, trying to keep my composure,” Rodon said. “Sometimes you want to freak out and go crazy, but it’s better to take a deep breath and calm yourself down rather than get all worked up.”

Freshman catcher Brett Austin of Charlotte said he got his first look at Rodon last summer when the two played together in a tournament in Chapel Hill.

“I was like, ‘Who is this kid?’ I’d never heard of him before,” Austin said. “He threw hard, with unbelievable stuff. He’s the real deal.”

A lot of major-league scouts thought so, too. Rodon could be playing his first season of professional baseball had he decided to take the money and make that jump.

But Rodon wanted a taste of college life. Selected by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 16th round of the 2011 MLB Draft, Rodon said his goal was to first win a national championship for the Pack.

“I’ve always wanted to win the College World Series,” Rodon said. “I’ve made some new friends and I love it here. I’m glad I made the decision to go to college.”