CLEVELAND — The Giants had not visited Cleveland since June 2008 before they arrived at Progressive Field for a three-game set on Friday. Thankfully, they had an experienced tour guide to direct them toward a win.
Carlos Rodón moved leagues, divisions and time zones when he signed a two-year deal with the Giants this offseason, yet the former American League Central hurler wound up in a familiar spot on Friday against the Guardians. He’s pitched nearly twice as many innings vs. Cleveland (125) than the next closest opponent (Twins, 64 1/3).
“It’s just like I can’t get rid of them and they can’t get rid of me,” he said.
And, as has generally been the case for Rodón, he was strong in The Land.
He threw seven innings, striking out nine while allowing only one run to fuel a 4-1 win.
“We’ve seen enough,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “I’m glad he’s in the National League and this is the only [matchup] … because he’s had his way with us.”
Even with low-whiffing Steven Kwan in the lineup for the Guardians, their bats had few answers for Rodón. He issued more free passes — two walks and a hit by pitch — than he allowed hits (two), using a powerful, well-placed fastball to set up a stellar start.
“I just went out there and attacked. [Catcher] Joey [Bart] and I once again kept that pace,” Rodón said. “They were swinging early, they were really aggressive, and honestly, that’s a good lineup.”
Rodón is positioned to be a unique pitcher in Giants history. Since pitch-tracking data began in 2008, only three starters for the Giants have thrown more 98 mph pitches than Rodón: Tim Lincecum (208), Kevin Gausman (107) and Jeff Samardzija (93). Rodón has thrown 60 such offerings in only two starts.
At this rate, health permitting, Rodón will be clear past that strong field in a month or two.
And it’s not only how fast he throws, but how late that carries into his start. He hit 99 mph twice in the game: once in the sixth inning (99.3) and once in the seventh (99.1). As the sun goes down, the velo goes up.
“There’s a reason he’s one of the top pitchers in the league,” Guardians catcher Austin Hedges said. “He goes out there and he’s one of those rare guys that throws harder as the game goes on. When a guy is starting to throw his hardest — 98-plus — in the sixth, seventh, eighth inning, that means he’s pretty good.”
The Giants have also rarely seen this rate of strikeouts out of the gate to begin a season. Per the club, Rodón’s 21 strikeouts through two starts are the second most by a San Francisco starter through the first two starts of a season since 1901, trailing Cliff Melton’s 22 to start the 1937 season. His 21 strikeouts also lead all MLB pitchers by a comfortable margin.
Rodón’s debut for his new team was even more K-heavy last Saturday, as he struck out 12 batters in five innings. But that start came with little run support and ended in a 2-1 loss. The Giants gave him a little more help this time around with three homers.
One was sent off the bat of Brandon Crawford, who played in 1,448 Major League games outside of Cleveland before visiting for the first time on Friday. After sitting on Wednesday with a sore left wrist, the new veteran in town cranked a solo homer to right field amid a swirling wind at Progressive Field.
The way Rodón is drawing whiffs, Crawford won’t have to worry about overusing that wrist at his defensively important shortstop position.
“He’s been not very fun, necessarily, to play behind, because there’s not a whole lot of action for us,” Crawford said. “But it’s been fun to watch him compete.”
The Giants feel like they have a pair of “co-aces” at the top of their rotation. Logan Webb, who went eight innings on Wednesday, has been phenomenal after compiling a 2.71 ERA in the second half of 2021 and becoming a dominant force in the postseason.
“I think we’re witnessing something special,” Giants manager Gabe Kapler said. “It’s really an elite arm with elite carry.”