White Sox

Jeff Samardzija bests Royals in potential last start for White Sox

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Jeff Samardzija bests Royals in potential last start for White Sox

Just as the White Sox hoped when they acquired him, Jeff Samardzija earned a late September victory over a top American League club on Tuesday night.

But little else has gone according to plan for Samardzija or the White Sox.

Samardzija delivered seven sharp innings as the White Sox bested the Kansas City Royals 4-2 at U.S. Cellular Field. But instead of pitching in a pennant race, Samardzija was mostly improving his free agent resume as he likely made his final start for the White Sox, who officially were eliminated from the wild-card race last weekend. After losing eight of his previous nine starts, Samardzija won his second in a row.

“We all wish it would have been different,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “I know he would, we would. But again, I look at him as a good pitcher. It didn't work in that period of time but you see him throw these last two games he threw, you realize he's a good pitcher.”

[MORE: Jose Abreu wants to improve English, leadership skills]

Two starts after he was booed off the U.S. Cellular Field mound, Samardzija disappointed a Royals-friendly crowd as he posted five straight scoreless innings to start.

Samardzija, who threw a one-hit shutout last week in Detroit, only got in trouble once in the early going. But he pitched around a pair of one-out singles in the second inning and retired nine straight batters into the fifth.

It’s just the type of outing the White Sox envisioned from Samardzija when they acquired him from Oakland last December and one he has only delivered on occasion in a disappointing season. Prior to his shutout on Sept. 21, Samardzija went 1-8 with 9.24 ERA in the nine starts since the White Sox opted to hang onto him at the trade deadline. At the time of that decision — a total reversal as the club was expected to sell Samardzija to the highest bidder — the White Sox had won seven straight games. Suddenly they found themselves in the thick of the wild-card race and had visions of a deep postseason run with a rotation headed by Samardzija and Chris Sale.

But by the time Samardzija lost an Aug. 29 decision against the Seattle Mariners — his sixth straight loss in August — the White Sox had fallen seven games behind the second wild-card spot.

[RELATED: Robin Ventura hopes entire coaching staff returns in 2016]

Instead of a storybook ending pitching for the team he grew up rooting for, Samardzija said he’s unsatisfied with his season.

“I had a big role in what happened this year, and just think about it, if you throw a couple better games here and there, instead of some clunkers like I did, we might be telling a little different story right now,” Samardzija said. “But you let it all hang out every game and what happens, happens. Unfortunately it didn't go my way as many times as I wanted to for this team, but, you know, that's the way it goes.”

With Samardzija in top form on Tuesday the White Sox never trailed. They took a 1-0 lead in the third inning on Jose Abreu’s two-out RBI single and increased the lead to three runs on Adam Eaton’s two-run homer in the sixth.

Samardzija — who allowed two runs and eight hits in seven innings — saw his scoreless innings streak end at 14 in the sixth as Eric Hosmer and Kendrys Morales had back-to-back solo homers to get Kansas City within a run.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

But Samardzija, who finished 11-13 with a 4.96 ERA in 214 innings, struck out Mike Moustakas to end the sixth and was aided by a fantastic run-saving catch by Trayce Thompson in the seventh.

Samardzija intends to enjoy his final five games in a White Sox uniform. He believes the team has a lot of great pieces and only needs to solve its consistency issue.

He also said it’s hard not to wonder what if.

“That’s the million-dollar question every year,” Samardzija said. “As a professional, you’re meant to go out and find that as quick as possible, and a lot of times that’s out on mound mid-game. There’s a lot of things that go into it. Sometimes it’s about just clearing your head and having fun out there, and enjoying what you’re doing instead of putting so much pressure on yourself.”

Reynaldo Lopez is changing his place in the White Sox rebuild: 'When I'm on the mound, I'm the best and I don't care about the rest'

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USA TODAY

Reynaldo Lopez is changing his place in the White Sox rebuild: 'When I'm on the mound, I'm the best and I don't care about the rest'

Rebuilds are full of surprises.

Fans can pencil in any names they want into their 2020 lineups, but there’s almost no one who’s going to have a 100-percent success rate when it comes to predicting exactly what the next contending White Sox team will look like.

Reynaldo Lopez carried plenty of hype when he was acquired from the Washington Nationals in the Adam Eaton deal prior following the 2016 season. He had a high prospect ranking before he was called up last summer. He hasn’t materialized out of nowhere.

But with names like Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen, Carlos Rodon and others to compete with for one of those coveted rotation spots of the future, was anyone going to use the term “ace” to describe Lopez?

Well, in this rebuilding season’s most pleasant surprise for the White Sox and their fans, that’s exactly what Lopez has been. He’s been hands down the team’s best starting pitcher, and he’s making the case that he shouldn’t be considered an ancillary piece in this rebuilding process but a featured one.

He might not be getting the attention that others are. But he’s doing the most with his opportunity of being at the big league level right now. In the end, as long as you’re getting batters out, who cares how much attention you get?

“It’s not about what people say or what they are talking about,” Lopez said through a translator. “It’s about the confidence I have in myself, and I have plenty of confidence in myself. For me, I’m the best. I’m not saying the other guys are not. I’m just saying that’s the confidence I have. When I’m on the mound, I’m the best and I don’t care about the rest.”

Sunday marked the best start of Lopez’s young career, so said the pitcher himself. He was terrific in shutting down the visiting Texas Rangers, holding them to just two hits over eight scoreless innings.

It was one heck of a bounce-back performance considering what happened last time out, when he was roughed up for six runs in just two innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The difference? His attitude, his focus, his intensity, his conviction.

“I just changed my attitude in the game,” Lopez said. “I was more positive today than I was in my last outing and that was one of my biggest differences.”

“I do think he came out a little bit more focused, to be honest,” manager Rick Renteria said. “The intensity level was a little higher today. I think he threw the first couple pitches 97, 98 miles an hour, where his last outing they were at 93, 94. There wasn’t a whole lot of commitment or conviction to his pitches (against the Pirates). I think, as we talked after the last outing, (pitching coach Don Cooper) spoke to him a little about making sure he brought that intensity that he has the ability to do, to bring it from Pitch 1 and he did today.”

Renteria liked it all, and he saw something different in his pitcher when he went out to talk to him with two outs in the eighth. Lopez issued a two-out walk, and Renteria considered lifting Lopez from the game.

Lopez made sure his manager wouldn’t pull the plug on this outing.

“I hid the baseball in my glove because I didn’t want to leave the game,” Lopez said. “I asked me, ‘How are you? Are you good?’ And I told him, ‘Yes, I’m good.’ Then he asked me again, ‘Do you think you are able to get him out?’ And I said yes, ‘This is my game, and I’m going to finish it.’”

What did Lopez do with his extra life? He finished it all right, blowing Shin-Soo Choo away with a 96-mile-an-hour fastball. Then he showed as much emotion as he’s ever shown on a major league field. He earned that celebration.

“When you see your manager come out and you’ve already gone through most of your game in terms of what you might think you have in number of pitches available to you, and you reiterate that you want to finish a particular batter because you want to get out of that inning, and you do it, it's an accomplishment,” Renteria said. “It's a big accomplishment. For him, pretty good hitter. He battled him and he was able to get out of that inning and complete a very, very strong eight-inning outing.”

It’s the kind of exclamation point on a dominant afternoon that could stir some big plans in White Sox fans always dreaming of the future. What Lopez has done this season has been a strong case for a spot in that future rotation and a spot at the front of it, at that. Following Sunday’s gem, Lopez owns a 2.98 ERA with at least six strikeouts in four of his nine starts.

There’s a lot of development and a lot of time left before the White Sox contention window opens. But Lopez pitching like this offers a glimpse into the crystal ball, a look at what could be for an organization that’s acquired so much talent over the last two years.

You might not have seen it coming like this, but the future arriving in the form of Lopez is a sign that brighter days are ahead on the South Side.

Carlos Rodon's first rehab start went well, White Sox set date for next one

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USA TODAY

Carlos Rodon's first rehab start went well, White Sox set date for next one

Carlos Rodon's return to the South Side is coming soon.

The top-five draft pick recovering from last fall's shoulder surgery made his first rehab start Saturday with Class A Kannapolis and threw well. Rodon allowed just one run on three hits in his five innings of work, striking out six and walking none.

The White Sox announced Sunday that Rodon's second rehab start will come Thursday with Triple-A Charlotte.

As for the exact date Rodon returns to the big league roster, it's unknown at this point. General manager Rick Hahn said that Rodon will make multiple rehab starts. One might look to the pitcher's recovery from a spring injury last year as a guide. Rodon made four rehab starts in June before debuting with the White Sox on June 28.

This recovery is different, of course. Rodon is eligible to come off the 60-day disabled list on May 28.