As friends and White Sox teammates, Carlos Rodon and Omar Narvaez spend a lot of time talking to one another.
In the clubhouse. During batting practice. Before and after bullpen sessions.
Listen closely, and you might notice their chats take place in two languages. Narvaez is from Venezuela and wants to improve his English. Rodon grew up in North Carolina and wants to learn better Spanish.
“I’m the Spanish teacher and he’s the English teacher,” Narvaez said. “He talks full English and I respond full Spanish.”
The conversations, once choppy, have become more natural over the course of the season as both players listen to answers in the other’s native language. Topics include baseball, cars, music and life in general.
“His English is far better than my Spanish,” Rodon said with a grin.
But the tone turns serious when it is Rodon’s turn to pitch and Narvaez catches him behind the plate. On those days, as was the case Saturday, Narvaez studies Rodon’s body language to make sure the pitcher does not get too riled up. Conversations on the mound take place in English only to make sure Rodon understands each word.
The bond between the battery mates appears to be working. Rodon limited the Rays to one run in four innings before his outing was interrupted by a one hour and 18 minute rain delay, and the Sox held on for a 5-4 win.
Alen Hanson and Yolmer Sanchez led off the first with back-to-back home runs against Chris Archer, who left abruptly with forearm tightness. The outburst marked only the third time in franchise history that the Sox have started with back-to-back homers – and the first time since July 4, 2000, when Ray Durham and Jose Valentin went deep.
Narvaez hit a solo shot in the fourth before the delay. Avisail Garcia added a two-run blast in the seventh, which marked his career-high 14th home run of the season.
Sox manager Rick Renteria said Rodon would have returned to pitch the fifth inning if the rain delay were less than one hour. Instead, he sent out Carson Fulmer, who pitched two innings to earn his first career win.
“Once we saw it was going to be beyond an hour, it made no sense for us to expose him to any strain and heat him back up with all the other guys available to us,” Renteria said.
Rodon’s smaller sample size (4 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 4 K) reflected recent trends for the 24-year-old southpaw, who still has to improve his fastball command but possesses enough talent to be one of the Sox’s top starters.
“Felt good with everything,” Rodon said. “It would have been nice to not have any rain, but that happens.”
Rodon’s teammates believe he can be an ace.
“There’s no doubt in my mind he could be a No. 1 pitcher,” said James Shields, a 12-year veteran. “He’s got the stuff. He’s got the mentality, no doubt about that. He’s the ultimate competitor.”
Rodon always has had front-of-the-rotation potential. That is part of the reason the Sox selected him No. 3 overall in 2014 out of North Carolina State.
A biceps injury in the spring delayed Rodon’s season debut until late June. He struggled during his first month back, but he is 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA (15 earned runs in 45 innings) in his past seven outings.
“He’s a bulldog,” Narvaez said. “I love it. I’d rather go calm him down than fire him up.”
When Rodon is rattled, what does Narvaez say to help him refocus?
“Tricks like that, I can’t tell,” Narvaez said.
Not in any language.