The year-to-year transformation that made Lucas Giolito an All Star has gone the opposite direction for Reynaldo Lopez.
Lopez was the White Sox best starting pitcher in 2018, finishing with an ERA below 4.00 thanks to a sensational stretch to close the campaign, in which he allowed just five runs in 40 innings over his final six starts. It looked like Lopez was primed for another step forward in 2019 after the word “ace” got thrown around an awful lot at the end of last year.
Instead, the opposite has happened. Much like Giolito was statistically the worst pitcher in baseball in 2018, Lopez has a claim to that title through the first half of 2019. After another shellacking Thursday at the hands of the Detroit Tigers — seven runs allowed, six of them earned, in just 5.1 innings — he once more has the highest ERA among baseball’s qualified starters, a grotesque 6.34 mark that has fans screaming in frustration.
Those fans want Lopez out of the White Sox rotation, sent either to the bullpen or to Triple-A Charlotte.
That’s not going to happen, manager Rick Renteria confirmed after Thursday’s game, pointing to Giolito’s yearlong stay as a member of the starting staff in 2018 as a launching pad for his 2019 renaissance.
“There's nothing in our minds right now that I'm aware of that we're going to do,” Renteria said. “He's going to continue to work, try to make the adjustments that are necessary. Some of it is simply more mental approach. Some of the physical things that (pitching coach Don Cooper) was talking about in the ballgame, you could see when he's not getting back behind the ball, but those are all correctable. You've got to just keep battling.
“Is it surprising? Yeah, we would have wanted it to have autocorrected. There's work that needs to be done, obviously. You go from one (side of the) spectrum to the other with Lucas and now (Lopez) goes in the opposite direction. We've certainly seen that Lopey's capable of doing the things he did last year, obviously. Let's see if the break, a little respite, some conversation, some work and see if the second half fares better for him.”
Lopez won’t pitch again until after the All-Star break, an extended period of rest that he believes he can take advantage of. In fact, he’s determined to make Thursday’s outing the last one that looks like this, going as far to promise a much different-looking pitcher in the second half.
“At this point, after a really bad first half, there's not much I can say about that. Starting today, you're going to see a different pitcher going forward for the second half of the season,” Lopez said Thursday through team interpreter Billy Russo. “What is done is done. There's nothing else that I can do to change what is done. I can do different things to get better and to be a better pitcher for the year and that's what I'm going to do.”
What has sent Lopez backward remains a bit of a mystery. Mechanical issues, mental hiccups, those reasons have all been thrown around this season, but apparently they’re either not easy to correct or simply not staying corrected because the results remain woeful.
Thursday’s outing started out so well, with Lopez retiring the first nine batters he faced, perfect through three innings. His own throwing error in the fourth led to a run, unearned, before things started to unravel in the fifth, when the Tigers started the inning with three straight singles, the third plating two runs. The sixth was a nightmare, with Lopez allowing three doubles and a two-run homer before getting lifted.
Lopez’s sixth-inning ERA this season is a startling 12.19.
A year ago, Lopez looked to be staking his claim to a spot in what appeared to be a very crowded rotation of the future for the White Sox. Much like Giolito has shown the opposite can be true, Lopez is falling out those projections mighty quick. This is very much not the guy we saw last year.
“The plan is to take advantage of the break, try to clear my mind during those three days that we're going to have off,” Lopez said. “Today after my outing I was talking with one of the guys here and we already figured out what I'm doing and what I need to do in order to get better. That's why I said the second half is going to be much much better.
“In this game, it is physically and mentally tough. You need to be ready for that. My mechanics have changed from last year, and I think I'm probably thinking too much about that. That's something that I need to simplify. I need to clear my mind and just be out there ready to pitch and execute my pitches.”