The White Sox took another step in finding their fifth starter Thursday night.
Both Reynaldo López and Carlos Rodón took the hill in the White Sox spring bout with the Cincinnati Reds, to differing results. López, pitching for the second time during the exhibition schedule, gave up five runs in three innings. Rodón threw two scoreless frames in his Cactus League debut.
No, the job likely wasn't won with so much of spring training left to go. But with just one spot in the rotation up for grabs, every pitch counts.
"You can’t phony up the competition. You can try to, players see through it. This is legitimate competition," White Sox manager Tony La Russa said before the game. "Each guy knows it, the players will be watching closely, and that makes today something special."
It wasn't that special for López, who was perfect in two innings in first spring session. He revisited his old problem of tipping his pitches, he theorized after he exited, giving up back-to-back home runs and a couple doubles.
Rodón fared much better, citing the benefits of the work he did this winter and spring with new pitching coach Ethan Katz.
The competition is technically open to more than just these two mainstays of the White Sox rebuilding years, with youngsters Jonathan Stiever and Jimmy Lambert mentioned as alternative starting-pitching options. But indeed, it seems to be a battle between López and Rodón for the fifth spot after Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Lance Lynn and Dylan Cease in the South Side rotation.
Rodón, who signed a major league deal to return to the White Sox after he was non-tendered early in the offseason, has seemed the favorite if for nothing more than the realities of roster construction. López has options remaining, and Rodón is guaranteed $3 million, an investment that would strike as unusual should he not make the Opening Day roster. Of course, it's possible both could be part of the 26-man group that leaves Arizona, with one in the rotation and the other part of the bullpen.
But as closely as folks in Chicago might be watching the roster battle, the competition hasn't seemed to have taken up too much real estate in the heads of either pitcher.
"This game is about competition," López said Thursday through team interpreter Billy Russo. "I welcome the competition. That’s something that I like to do, and that’s how I approach every spring training. Right now, for me it’s another spring training. ... I don’t pay much attention to the competition because for me that’s something natural. It comes with the game."
"Reynaldo and I play catch together. We are throw partners. We are like brothers," Rodón said. "It’s a friendly competition. I’m always pulling for him, and I know he’s pulling for me. So that thing will take care of itself, and whatever it is, it is."
It's still early, obviously, and both pitchers can still show the White Sox plenty, good or bad.
What these guys need to be is reliable, and that comes through consistency. Both López and Rodón have struggled to provide that in the past, be it because of inconsistent performance or inconsistent health.
Though someone like Michael Kopech might end up stepping into a starter's role over the course of the season, he'll begin in the bullpen. Stiever and Lambert? They might be better viewed as minor league depth waiting to be called upon in case of emergency.
So while there's plenty of things the White Sox will be looking for over the next few weeks from López and Rodón, whoever can provide the most dependable option might end up the winner of this competition.
It's certainly the way La Russa outlined things at the start of spring training.
"We're making it real clear, this is going to be a competitive camp," the South Side skipper said last month. "The guys that pitch and play the best are the ones that get to pitch and play."