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What to expect as Carlos Rodon returns to White Sox rotation

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Former No. 3 overall pick Carlos Rodon will make his triumphant return to the Chicago White Sox rotation as soon as this week or at least some point this month.

Despite the fact he hasn’t yet lived up to his future ace billing, he has been a reliable member of the staff since rapidly climbing his way to the big leagues in 2015 and will continue to be a part of the organization’s long-term plans.

However, what happens next with Rodon probably will do a lot to determine exactly how he slots into the future. And there will be a few things the White Sox will be looking for as he gets back on the bump.

Rodon has always had wipeout stuff, creating swings and misses nearly 20 percent of the time with an elite slider that he sets up with an above-average heater, a changeup with natural sink and a sinker that helps keep the ball in the yard. It’s helped him generate 9.2 strikeouts per 9 innings throughout his career.

The problem has been his tendency to get a little loose with just about all of those offerings. He particularly has trouble locating the changeup, which has led to 3.8 walks per 9 innings and forced him to spend more time pitching with runners on base than somebody with his stuff should have to.

Of course, that will be what the White Sox primarily are focused on in his return. They know he’s a solid middle-of-the-rotation guy, but with some tightening he could still approach the bottom of the ceiling that made him considered such a lock to begin with.

The organization certainly hopes health was a major factor in his inconsistency and that this most recent surgery will help him clean things up. His rehab assignments seem to show that he’s feeling more confident in his delivery.

Rodon has pitched 12.2 innings over three starts, first at low-A Kannapolis and then at triple-A Charlotte. In those starts, he’s shown the same incredible swing-and-miss potential with 20 strikeouts while walking just 2 batters.

The man hasn’t worked into the sixth inning yet, and having the confidence to pound the strike zone against major league hitters is certainly another animal. But the early indications are that he feels more confident. Now it’s a matter of building the pitch count and getting him to a place where he can take on a true starter’s workload without needing to be babied.

The White Sox will eventually want to see him having enough trust in his stuff and his defense to challenge hitters the third time through the order, whereas he’s previously danced around the issue and shown a tendency to make mistakes up in the zone after falling behind.

The sinker could ultimately be key in those efforts. In his first three seasons, he’s thrown it significantly less later on in games despite the fact he’s held opposing hitters to a .321 slugging percentage against with his sinker the third time through the order.

He doesn’t generate nearly as many swings and misses with the pitch, so his strikeout numbers might take a nick. But that’s something you’ve got to be willing to sacrifice if you’re the White Sox. Because when he’s the elder statesman in this rotation within the next two seasons, he’ll be relied upon to work into the seventh and eighth inning regularly.

They’ll have to be patient. He’s clearly not as confident throwing the sinker as he is the four-seamer or the slider, but it’s an adjustment they’ll probably need as growing pains tax the bullpen for the next season and a half.

Rodon doesn’t necessarily have to be the innings-eater all at once in his return, but it will eventually be an important part of this staff’s development. Because the sooner he can fill that role for them — whether it means he’s a No. 3 starter or the potential ace he was always billed as — the sooner the organization can rid themselves of guys like James Shields and Miguel Gonzalez as necessities.

Ryan Wooden is a full-time sports writer based in the Chicago suburbs. In addition to co-founding The Chicago Sports Column, he is a weekend editor for BetChicago and covers prep sports in DuPage County for the Daily Herald and Shaw Media. Find him away from the computer (or don't) on some body of water or some golf course somewhere.