Rick Renteria

Rick Renteria has a laugh at Cubs' expense in census PSA

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USA TODAY

Rick Renteria has a laugh at Cubs' expense in census PSA

"Even that team up in Wrigleyville counts."

White Sox fans probably have some varying opinions on that statement, but it was an unexpected laugh-worthy line in Rick Renteria's public service announcement encouraging folks to participate in this year's U.S. census.

In an otherwise standard pep talk from the South Side skipper, he assured every Chicago resident and every White Sox fan that they deserve to be counted in the every-10-years tally of the national population.

But even the manager had to chuckle when he got to this line: "I mean, even that team up in Wrigleyville counts."

Renteria has repeatedly expressed his lack of ill will toward his former employer on the other side of town and his gratitude for the Cubs giving him his first big league managerial job.

But a little neighborly ribbing between the two Chicago squads is always welcome. And in this case, it's for an important cause.

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Rick Renteria shares Opening Day message with White Sox fans

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USA TODAY

Rick Renteria shares Opening Day message with White Sox fans

Perhaps no one was looking forward to starting a new era of White Sox baseball more than Rick Renteria.

The skipper has been talking about playoff expectations and turning the South Siders into a winning group since the final weeks of the 2019 season.

Instead, baseball is in a holding pattern with the rest of the sports world as the planet deals with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

On Thursday, Renteria shared a video message with fans who are missing their team on what was supposed to be Opening Day.

"I know today was supposed to be a special day all across the country," the White Sox manager said. "But unfortunately, we're dealing with something a little bigger than our great game. I assure you our players are maintaining and working very hard so that when the season does resume, we will be ready.

"But in the meantime, please take care of yourselves and your families, be safe and go Sox."

Unfortunately, it's still unclear when the 2020 season will begin. The league and the players are reportedly hoping for an early June start, but that remains only a hope amid so much uncertainty in the world.

The commissioner penned a letter on Thursday morning with a message of optimism and resilience, pledging that baseball would be there to help people get through tough times as it has been in the past.

White Sox fans will have to wait a while longer for the most anticipated season in years to begin, but the team's future remains incredibly bright, pointing to winning baseball finally returning to the South Side.

RELATED: Sox send Michael Kopech to Triple-A

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The stakes are higher for White Sox pitcher Reynaldo Lopez in 2020

The stakes are higher for White Sox pitcher Reynaldo Lopez in 2020

After an abysmal first half of the 2019 season, Reynaldo Lopez stood at his locker and made a promise.

“You're going to see a different pitcher going forward for the second half of the season,” he said on the Fourth of July, through team interpreter Billy Russo.

And for a while, he delivered. In his first six starts after the All-Star break, he had a 2.13 ERA.

But the same inconsistency that bedeviled him in the first half wasn’t gone for long. He stumbled to the finish line (apart from a complete-game shutout with 11 strikeouts in Cleveland) and ended the season with a 5.38 ERA. Only one qualified starting pitcher in baseball (Boston’s Rick Porcello) had a higher ERA in 2019.

So now what?

Another promise.

“Last year was a year of too many ups and downs,” Lopez said, through Russo, in the early days of spring training. “But I learned to take the positive things from last year, and it put me in a better position for this year, and I'm pretty confident that this is going to be a better year.

“I'm here right now in a much better place mentally and physically, and it's going to be a good year.”

The stakes have gotten much higher for the White Sox as they look to leap into contention mode in 2020, and with that, the stakes are higher for Lopez, too. While Rick Hahn assured that Lopez would have an Opening Day rotation spot way back in September, it’s reasonable to wonder how long this team can allow Lopez to search for consistency.

With Dallas Keuchel now owning a rotation spot for the next three seasons (at least), Michael Kopech returning from Tommy John surgery and a wave of pitching depth on the mend behind him, the starting staff is a lot more crowded than it has been in each of Lopez's first two full seasons in the major leagues.

That doesn’t mean Lopez is pitching for a job before the season even starts. But years of development have yielded to what the White Sox hope is a long period of contention. Now that winning is the most important thing, pitchers repeatedly taking their lumps in “learning moments” should be a thing of the past.

RELATED: Sox need Cease to put the growing pains behind him

“I'm going to keep doing my job and keep doing my best. There isn't anything to fight for,” Lopez said. “When you're in this level, everyone knows you can't be comfortable because there's a lot of people behind you that want the spot. That's my mindset.

“I know what I need to do. I know my abilities and all the things I'm able to do. I'm just going to have confidence in myself and in my work, and then we'll see what happens.”

So how does he secure his spot in the rotation moving forward? How does he avoid a repeat of 2019?

In 2018, Lopez was probably the team’s best starting pitcher. But last year, he just couldn’t put things together on any sort of consistent basis, following up every flash of brilliance, like that September evening in Cleveland or the 14 Detroit Tigers he struck out in late April, with disastrous results. Following each of those games, he allowed six runs in his next start.

While those dazzling performances were the highlights of his season, the enduring image of Lopez’s 2019 will be the scolding he got from manager Rick Renteria on the mound in Detroit in his second-to-last start of the season. After spending much of the season talking about “focus” as the issue dogging him most, Lopez stood there as Renteria, in the skipper’s words, “wanted to make sure he was aware that he was actually pitching today.”

With an offseason to reflect, the mental side of the game kept coming up as Lopez described what needs to change from 2019.

“Everyone knows this game is more mental than physical. I used to work on my body more than my mindset, but then I changed that,” he said. “I had some problems, too, that I wanted to improve in that aspect. I made some changes to get my mind right for the season.

“Sometimes I made a bad pitch, and then I couldn't get rid of it. That thought in my mind was always there, or a bad outing that I couldn't get rid of for the next outing. It was always something. When something bad happened, bad thoughts kept on my mind. That was the reason why I struggled last year and wasn't able to be consistent, obviously.

“But this year, I can say it's going to be different. I learned from that, and I know what I need to in order to keep my consistency.”

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