White Sox

White Sox finding transition to new catchers a smooth one


White Sox finding transition to new catchers a smooth one

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The White Sox haven’t broken in two new catchers in 11 years, back when A.J. Pierzynski and Chris Widger were brought in before the 2005 season. Since then, either Pierzynski or Tyler Flowers has been the team’s regular starting catcher, providing uncommon consistency for the team’s pitching staff.

The White Sox jettisoned Flowers and signed veterans Dioner Navarro and Alex Avila in the offseason, but pitchers said the adjustment to both has been quick and smooth.  

“It’s been great,” left-hander John Danks said. “Two veteran guys who’ve had a lot of success in the big leagues and have seen me a lot, so it’s an easy transition for me personally. Love having them back there." 

[SHOP: Gear up for the season, White Sox fans!]

Left-hander Jose Quintana echoed Danks' sentiment — even though Navarro is a die-hard fan of Barcelona, the El Clasico rival of Quintana's beloved Real Madrid. 

“I feel really good with them,” Quintana said. “They have a lot of experience in the big leagues. I think they can help this team. I feel really good with them.”  

Between them, Avila and Navarro have caught 11,827 2/3 innings over a combined 19 seasons in the majors. Both rate as good defensive catchers, though Statcorner.com had both as below-average pitch framers in 2015. 

There was a certain comfort level many pitchers on this staff had with Flowers that was disrupted by his departure. Flowers, who ironically enough is slated share time with Pierzynski again with the Atlanta Braves, was widely praised for his ability to handle the pitching staff — especially Chris Sale, who heaped praise on Flowers during his streak of eight consecutive games with 10 or more strikeouts last year. 

But whatever disruption that existed apparently was been short-lived. 

Avila said he and pitching coach Don Cooper had periodic conversations throughout the offseason to familiarize the ex-Detroit Tigers catcher with the repertoires and tendencies of his new teammates. And Navarro said he quickly learned about White Sox pitchers after arriving in Arizona last month — on Friday, he had left-hander Carlos Rodon drop his trusty slider and throw nothing but fastballs and sliders, something the 2014 first-round pick said was “awesome.” 

“I’ve been around so many teams for so many years,” Navarro, who’s on his seventh club, said. “One of the things I try to focus on in spring training is to get to know my guys, talking, sharing information with whoever. I just want to see what they’ve got. We don’t go into a game plan. We just want to see what they’ve got and see what happens. Right now is the time to find out what we’re made of and work on the things we need to work on.”

[MORE: Carlos Rodon shows just how good he can be for White Sox]

Whether Avila and Navarro represent a marked upgrade over Flowers and last year’s backup, Geovany Soto, remains to be seen. Avila and Navarro combined for 0.8 WAR on the Tigers and Toronto Blue Jays last year; Flowers and Soto were at 1.5 WAR (though it’s worth noting an 0.7 difference isn’t incredibly significant). 

Both Avila and Navarro have better on-base skills than Flowers, who has a career .289 on-base percentage. Navarro’s success against left-handers (career .775 OPS) and Avila’s against right-handers (career .781 OPS) could form a solid offensive platoon behind the plate, though. 

If the White Sox do see an offensive improvement from their catchers, the expectation about a month through spring training is that it won’t come at the expense of deftly handling the pitching staff. 

“Each team has their philosophies and way they like to do things,” Avila said. “At the end of the day, too, it’s just baseball. It’s the same everywhere. I’m not going to say it hasn’t been challenging. There’s a lot of new experiences, new faces, obviously new things to learn. But at the same time it’s gone very smooth.” 

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'


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


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.