Reynaldo Lopez

Welington Castillo still has an important job, even if he isn't a part of the White Sox long-term plans

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USA TODAY

Welington Castillo still has an important job, even if he isn't a part of the White Sox long-term plans

It's no bold statement to suggest that Welington Castillo is not a part of the long-term planning on the South Side.

The White Sox are still rebuilding, developing young players at all levels of the organization and crafting the core of a roster they hope will yield a perennial contender. Castillo's a 31-year-old veteran and barring something unforeseen will not be a part of that future. Zack Collins and Seby Zavala, a pair of catching prospects, are currently finishing off their minor league developments at Triple-A. Collins is off to a hot start, with five home runs in his first nine games as a Charlotte Knight. Both are expected to arrive in the major leagues sometime before time runs out on the 2019 season.

So what of Castillo? He was brought in two offseasons ago to help mold the team's numerous young starting pitchers, though he didn't get much opportunity to do that while serving a PED suspension that knocked 80 games off his workload last season. His offensive numbers, meanwhile, sank like a stone following a career year with the Baltimore Orioles in 2017. What looked like a useful veteran bridge to Collins and Zavala quickly became, within the fan base, a waiting game for his contract — which does have a team option for 2020, by the way — to expire.

Castillo, then, will be relied upon in 2019 to do what he couldn't in 2018: work with these young pitchers, chiefly Reynaldo Lopez, who he catches on a regular basis, and help turn them into guys the White Sox can hopefully build a future rotation around.

How's that going so far in 2019? The results haven't been great, with just a handful of good starts from the starting staff through the season's first 15 games. And none of them have come from Lopez. James McCann has caught all of Lucas Giolito's starts, same with Carlos Rodon's. So Castillo's main task this season seems to be Lopez, who's begun the season with 12.15 ERA in just 13.1 innings over his first three starts.

"I think that we have had our struggles here early. And I don’t know that has anything to do with our catchers as much as the pitchers are still trying to knock a little bit of the rust off and get themselves into a rhythm," manager Rick Renteria said before Lopez's start against the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday night. "But I think Wely has done what he’s needed to do with the guys we have.

"He and (McCann) are really good conversationalists with these guys in terms of baseball. When they get together and you see (pitching coach Don Cooper) and (assistant pitching coach Curt Hasler) and all the pitchers, the conversations are really good. They know what they are trying to accomplish and trying to get the best out of each pitcher. He’s doing what he needs to do to try to help us move forward."

Castillo admitted that working with struggling starters is less enjoyable than working with successful starters — not exactly a shock — but also expressed confidence that these guys, Lopez specifically, are going to turn things around.

"Honestly, it's not fun because it's part of my job to try to make them better, try to help them when they're not doing good," Castillo said Tuesday. "But I just try to stay in his mind, get in his mind and try to get his confidence back. It doesn't matter, anybody can miss a pitch, anybody can strike out, anybody can miss a play. You can't get your head down. Get your head up and keep doing your thing.

"I know the type of pitcher (Lopez) is, a guy that goes right at the hitter. He just hasn't been this year — maybe the weather or whatever it is — the guy that he was last year. But there's not any doubt about what he's capable of doing. Always when he takes the ball, I think we're going to go seven, eight innings. So that's the confidence I have in him, and that's a guy who goes right at the hitters. He's not afraid to pitch. I don't worry about him because I know him. We are really tight, and I know what he can do."

Castillo is one of a group of White Sox veterans whose impact on the franchise's future likely won't include them getting any big hits in a playoff game. When they were acquired, offseason additions like Yonder Alonso, Jon Jay and Ivan Nova were praised for the kinds of lessons they can leave behind in the clubhouse as much as for their on-field talent, which indicates the value the White Sox hope to get out these guys even if they aren't penciling them into the starting lineups for 2022 and 2023.

With Collins and Zavala nearing their major league debuts, Castillo falls into that veteran group, and it's hoped that what he can do for young pitchers like Lopez can breed key members of that rotation of the future. Considering it's been a slow offensive start for Castillo — despite bright spots like Monday night's clutch game-winning homer in the eighth inning — helping Lopez make strides this season will be his most important job.

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Reynaldo Lopez keeps starters' sour streak going: How will White Sox fix pitching problems?

Reynaldo Lopez keeps starters' sour streak going: How will White Sox fix pitching problems?

Another day, another brief, beat-up outing by a White Sox starting pitcher.

They're just as tired of it as you are.

Yes, they're only 11 games into a 162-game season, and this stretch of bad pitching could very well end up a mere bump in the road. But as the White Sox wrapped a six-game homestand on the South Side with Wednesday's 9-1 loss to the visiting Tampa Bay Rays, the collected numbers were just plain ugly.

White Sox pitching allowed 53 runs over six games against the Rays and, before them, the Seattle Mariners. Starting pitchers gave up 47 of those runs, with Reynaldo Lopez adding a third straight sour start to begin his 2019 campaign, giving up eight runs on 10 hits and four walks Wednesday. But it's the brevity of the starters' outings that has been, perhaps, even more glaring. For the fifth straight game, the White Sox starting pitcher lasted fewer than five innings, Lopez departing after 4.1 innings against the Rays. He ended up with the high-water mark in the longevity department on the homestand, with five innings in the home opener last Friday, the only game of the six the White Sox won.

In the half dozen contests, South Side starting pitching posted a 17.38 ERA.

"There’s no way of saying it other than we haven’t done very well, period," manager Rick Renteria said after Wednesday's game. "It’s a perfect storm in the pitching department right now. But it has nothing to do with not being prepared, nothing to do with not doing the work, nothing to do with guys understanding what the plans are. A lot of it is delivery mix. As soon as we can correct that, it puts us in a position where the games don’t seem to get out of hand, they get ugly and then you're always scratching and trying to claw back.

"The combination of inconsistency on one side and not being able to do a whole lot offensively, the picture looks ugly. But like I told the guys, we’re going to be all right. This is something we're going to have to weather. There is nothing else to do but to weather it."

Certainly the starting rotation has not been the only part of the White Sox pitching staff that's struggled, but part of the reason the bullpen has had its share of bad moments is that the starters are forcing the relievers to work more innings. The bullpen has been taxed, and Wednesday was no exception, with Renteria deploying four more arms after lifting Lopez in the fifth inning. Lopez said that, more than the runs going up on the board, is frustrating to him as a starter.

"You want to do better. Not just for yourself but for your team and especially for the bullpen, for relievers," Lopez said through team translator Billy Russo. "Our job as a starter is to go deep into the games and try to save the relievers, try to handle the game for them in a better situation. I wasn’t able to do it today, and I haven’t been able to do it in this start of the season.

"That’s the part frustrating me the most because I know that those guys are trying to do their best and we haven’t been able to help them. Outings like today, good or bad outings, I think it doesn’t frustrate me as much as these short outings, especially today. I knew they needed a break in the bullpen, and I wasn’t able to give it to them."

While the performance of the pitching staff as a whole has been tough to explain in the season's early going, Lopez's struggles have been particularly vexing. Lopez was the team's most reliable starting pitcher at the end of the 2018 season, closing that campaign on a great stretch of six starts in which he only allowed five runs over 40 innings. So far this season, his results have been the opposite, and he owned a 12.15 ERA after his third start of the year Wednesday.

"I have been checking the video from last year from the good moments for the good stretches I had last year and yes, I can say that the problem right now is in the mechanics," he said. "Just little things I need to adjust, little things I need to be more consistent with. That has been the problem.

"I know that I’m going to be able to adjust those things to fix it. But it’s just right now it’s taking me a little bit of time. Definitely something it is in my mechanics. Not mentally. The trouble is in my mechanics.

"I already identified what is going wrong. I identified that a few days ago. I'm working on it, and I know I'm going to fix it pretty soon. I have confidence in myself, and as soon as I fix that, I know the success is going to come."

While the manager, coaching staff and pitchers themselves have a much better grasp on what's going wrong than fans and observers do, it doesn't take an expert to know that things are going poorly at the present for just about everyone throwing pitches for the White Sox. The numbers are so jarring that they speak for themselves.

So hearing that there are problems that are going to be fixed isn't exactly breaking news. How is the team going to go about fixing these problems?

"We continue the work," Renteria said. "We continue to get out there, we continue to do the things that are necessary for them to put themselves back on track. Obviously they’ve done it before, and obviously the people who are dealing and working with these young men have been here in the particular situation before.

"To say that it's not frustrating for all of us would be false. We’re as frustrated as anybody else is. But for us, we're looking for solutions. I think they will come. I think time will put them back on track, and we’ll be able to right the ship a little bit. We hope it happens instantaneously, it hasn’t, that’s obvious. But we're going to continue to work and address the things we need to to see if we can put it back in order."

There have been bright spots this season, and pieces of the White Sox long-term puzzle are starting to fall into place with the likes of Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada and Eloy Jimenez. But pitching is a big part of that puzzle, too, and right now it's becoming more and more difficult to make any projections for the future based on what South Sider hurlers are showing in the early going of the 2019 season.

Again, it's early, and there's plenty of time left for these April struggles to be a faded memory. But a turnaround needs to happen at some point, before the "it's still early" explanation no longer applies.

"I know we are going to be good because we have experienced guys here. We have talent here," Lopez said. "And I know that as soon as we can turn this around, we are going to be good and we are going to be good for a long time. It’s not going to be just for a short stretch.

"Right now, I know that it looks bad because it’s the beginning of the season and we have back-to-back losses. It’s going to be good, and the key is to keep working and try to improve."

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A miserable start for White Sox pitching continues: 'It's not acceptable'

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AP

A miserable start for White Sox pitching continues: 'It's not acceptable'

It's only been 10 games. And what happens in the first 16th of a Major League Baseball season does not determine the remaining 94 percent of the campaign to follow. If it did, Chris Shelton would have won an MVP and the 1987 Milwaukee Brewers would be remembered as the greatest team in baseball history.

So all assessments at the 10-game mark need to be taken with a hefty helping of sodium chloride.

But through the first 10 games of this season, White Sox pitching has been very, very not good. After Tuesday's 10-5 loss to the visiting Tampa Bay Rays, the South Side staff owned the highest ERA in baseball, at 6.72, moving ahead of their Crosstown rivals, whose pitching staff generated sky-is-falling delirium on the other side of town in the season's first week.

Now it's the White Sox turn to experience a string of pitching nightmares. Through the first five games of the current homestand, South Side pitching allowed 44 runs, an average of nearly nine a game. The starting rotation is to blame for 29 of those in an eye-poppingly small number of innings, just 20, an average of four innings a start. Reynaldo Lopez kicked things off with five innings in the home opener, the only win on this homestand to this point. Lucas Giolito followed with 4.1 innings, Ivan Nova with 2.1 innings, Carlos Rodon with 4.2 innings. Ervin Santana's White Sox debut went poorly Tuesday, and he lasted just 3.2 innings, still tagged by the Rays for seven runs. The quintet’s ERA the last turn through the rotation is a hideous 13.05.

The bullpen hasn't been much better, with 15 runs coughed up in the five games. Few innings have gone worse for that relief corps than Jace Fry's startling 46-pitch top of the ninth Tuesday. He gave up two runs on three hits and a couple of walks, one of the bases-loaded variety, watching his ERA balloon to 13.50 in the process. That followed up Caleb Frare's brief appearance that featured a couple aesthetically displeasing wild pitches.

Of the 15 pitchers who have thrown for the White Sox this season — including Dylan Covey and Carson Fulmer, both currently on the roster at Triple-A Charlotte — only five have ERAs below 5.70, while six of them have ERAs north of 7.70 and four have ERAs at or north of 10.00.

It's an all-around ugly situation and one that the White Sox didn't expect. The experience gained by Rodon, Lopez and Giolito in 2018 and the offseason additions of Nova, Alex Colome and Kelvin Herrera were supposed to make this staff better. But questions of reliability have not been answered to this point, even if "to this point" is just a week and a half into April.

No one's suggesting the plug get pulled on any of the young pitchers who still have the talent to work their way into the team's long-term plans, especially in the rotation where guys like Rodon and Lopez have flashed, at times, ace-like potential. But as manager Rick Renteria has said from the start of spring training, the expectations have changed. The White Sox pitching staff, at the present, is not meeting those expectations.

"At some point we have to look ourselves in the mirror and be accountable to our actions, lack of, whether they are positive or negative," Renteria said after Tuesday's game. "Our expectations are very high. We came into spring with high expectations. I think that, at this point, are we disappointed? A little bit. Absolutely. They are a little disappointed as well. They are not guys who are wanting to have had the start we are having right now.

"I get it's early in the season — albeit we're not the only club that's had issues early on — it's not acceptable and we don't want it to be something that's acceptable. We want to make sure they understand that change has to occur."

Don't expect that change to be the kind fans on Twitter are asking for, that the White Sox front office goes out and signs the still-jobless Dallas Keuchel, the 2015 AL Cy Young winner who has been one of two high-profile victims of this winter's glacially paced free-agent market (Hall of Fame bound closer Craig Kimbrel is the other, and it seems unlikely the White Sox would add him to their staff, either). Even if the expectations are different for this year's group of White Sox, it doesn't mean they're expected to contend for a playoff spot. Adding Keuchel might drastically improve the rotation in the short term, but it's hard to see what kind of long-term goals such a move would accomplish. And as the summer goes on, a contender or two figure to find themselves with an opening in their rotation, perhaps a much more attractive situation for Keuchel's camp.

No, the change will have to come from the inside, and in most cases, from the guys already on this big league roster. Dylan Cease won't be rushed as he gets his feet wet in Triple-A. It's unlikely Jordan Stephens and Jordan Guerrero would make fans swoon with their major league arrivals like Michael Kopech did last summer. There's a chance that Covey could again find his way into the rotation at some point, with Renteria saying part of the reason the White Sox sent him down was to allow him to work his way into a starting role in Charlotte. The Triple-A bullpen has some pieces that can be brought up to the bigs, but most of those are players the White Sox passed up for their current crop of relievers at the end of the spring.

That might paint a dire portrait in the minds of White Sox fans, but it's as good an example as any that there might be no white knight riding in to save the staff. The corrections are going to have to occur from within. If they do, then we'll look back on these 10 games as merely a bump in the road. If they don't, then this will have been a bad omen that some of the guys hoped to be a part of the long-term future couldn't figure things out. The White Sox, of course, are hoping that latter scenario never rears its head.

Earlier on this homestand, Nova said what he needed to do for his next outing. His response? "Pitch better." That seems to apply to just about everyone who picks up a ball for the White Sox at this point.

"We have to make adjustments," Renteria said. "That's the bottom line."

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