TAMPA — Carlos Rodon stepped onto the mound at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Friday afternoon to throw his first official live batting practice of this spring training.
After 12 pitches to hitters Jose Trevino and Ben Rortvedt, neither had lifted the bat off their shoulder.
With some colorful language, and a hint of sarcasm mixed in, Rodon asked out loud whether the Yankees batters were just not going to swing at all.
“I was laughing pretty hard behind the plate,” said Kyle Higashioka, who was catching Rodon.
The new Yankees left-hander came back to strike out the next hitter on three pitches to end the simulated inning, showing off both the edge and high-end stuff he came advertised with when he signed a six-year, $162 million contract in December.
“[It was] fun, because you see how competitive he gets,” manager Aaron Boone said. “Trevy was tracking that first at-bat against him and he’s ticked off we’re not swinging and kind of raises his game a little bit.”
The Yankees hope to see more of that, and the results to follow, as Rodon joins their rotation after being one of the better starting pitchers in baseball over the last two seasons. The 30-year-old Rodon is expected to slot in as a strong No. 2 behind Gerrit Cole, with the potential for the duo to elevate each other’s game.
“We can definitely push each other, start to start,” Rodon said. “It’s one of those inner competitions. But everybody’s watched Gerrit for a while. He’s a fun guy to watch. He makes it look easy.”
Adding in Luis Severino and Nestor Cortes, the Yankees plan on rolling out a rotation that features four former All-Stars. Domingo German and Clarke Schmidt are set to battle for the fifth spot that is open now that Frankie Montas is scheduled to have shoulder surgery.
Rodon, who arrived in Tampa two weeks early to begin his preparation for the season, said his early impressions of the Yankees are “first-class everything.” He is still settling into his new environment — though Boone said he is getting more comfortable — playing for his third team in as many years.
But the competitive fire with which he pitches was on full display Friday, even during a mostly meaningless 30-35 pitch session against hitters.
“He’s just a little brash and confident,” Boone said. “He’s just competitive. You see it every time we get into, certainly a live situation. But he comes with that reputation, having a little fire to him. He’s also easy to talk to, easy to fit in with. I feel like he’s off to a good start.”
After battling through injuries early in his career, Rodon has stayed healthy over the last two seasons, which allowed him to pitch up to his potential as a former No. 3-overall draft pick. He pitched to a 2.67 ERA with 422 strikeouts across 310 2/3 innings over the last two years while throwing almost predominantly his four-seam fastball and slider. They accounted for 92.3 percent of his pitches in 2022 and 85.9 percent in 2021.
Rodon began to mix in more curveballs at the end of last season. He said Friday he expects to continue that this season, while also trying to refine the profile of his changeup in order to make it another potential option.
For now, his arsenal on Friday was plenty impressive to Higashioka, who was catching him for just the second time.
“Slider was filthy, curveball was filthy, the fastball just looks like it takes off out of his hand,” Higashioka said.
As for whether Rodon actually feels like a Yankee yet? That may have to wait six weeks or so.
“I think it’s one of those things that [will come] once I throw my first pitch at Yankee Stadium in the pinstripes,” he said. “I mean, it feels real, but I’ll feel like I’m solidified and I’m in, I guess, the fraternity.”
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