White Sox

Reynaldo Lopez vows second-half improvement: 'You're going to see a different pitcher'

Reynaldo Lopez vows second-half improvement: 'You're going to see a different pitcher'

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.”

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Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: It's Elvis night on the South Side

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USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: It's Elvis night on the South Side

Scott Podsednik and David DeJesus join Leila Rahimi on Baseball Night in Chicago to discuss all things baseball.

They talk Yoan Moncada's comeback, Eloy Jiménez's injury, the Cubs' continuing bullpen struggles and more.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Eloy Jimenez not worried about his hip but admits frustration with rookie-year injuries

Eloy Jimenez not worried about his hip but admits frustration with rookie-year injuries

It doesn't sound like Eloy Jimenez's bout of hip soreness that kept him out of the lineup for the first two games of this weekend's series with the Texas Rangers is anything to be concerned about.

But for a player who loathes being limited to sitting and watching, it's just the latest injury-related bummer during a rookie season that's seen several of them.

General manager Rick Hahn started his press conference Thursday with the news that Jimenez was scratched from the starting lineup, delaying the on-field reunion of three of the team's young core players. Jimenez, Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada, all three of whom have sat through lengthy stays on the injured list this summer, have played just one inning together since late June.

With the season in late August, that's not great.

That's not likely to have cascading negative effects on the White Sox ability to contend in 2020 or the individual developments of each player. After all, Anderson and Moncada remain in the midst of breakout seasons. Anderson's been smoking hot in August, with a .400/.419/.567 slash line on the month. Moncada returned from the IL on Thursday and promptly banged out a pair of extra-base hits, including a two-run homer.

Jimenez hasn't had the same level of success as the two guys on the left side of the infield, though that hasn't been a massive surprise. While expectations were sky high — any more missed time from Jimenez will directly impact the chances of my overzealous preseason prediction of 36 home runs coming true — it's not at all shocking to see any player, even one with as much potential as Jimenez, go through rookie-year growing pains. Just look at what Moncada went through in his first full season in the big leagues in 2018.

Jimenez's "struggles," if you want to call them that, haven't been quite as pronounced as Moncada's thanks to the sheer fact that every time Jimenez launches a ball to dead center he provides a thrilling glimpse of the future, of the player he's supposed to be one day. There have been stretches of that player, but they've been slowed or flat out stopped by injuries.

The two big ones, the ones that landed Jimenez on the IL, aren't expected to be recurring problems. The first, as manager Rick Renteria will be quick to remind you, came when Jimenez made a play he shouldn't have attempted to make, trying to, as Renteria put it, "climb a wall" while going after a home-run ball. The second one was of the freak variety, him banging his elbow into Charlie Tilson in the outfield.

But whether they'll repeat themselves or not, those injuries brought his momentum at the plate to a halt. A slow first few games had Jimenez's batting average at .167 and his on-base percentage at .231 on April 5. In the 15 games that followed, he owned a .273 batting average and a .322 on-base percentage. That momentum was stopped by the first injured-list stint, which lasted nearly a month.

After returning, Jimenez had a great month of June, with a .284/.340/.602 slash line to go along with eight homers in 24 games. But by the middle of July, he was on the IL again after whacking his funny bone in that collision with Tilson. The numbers have not been good since he came back from that absence: a .235/.257/.439 line in 24 games.

"Little bit, yeah," Jimenez said Friday, asked if the injuries have been frustrating. "Because they started to happened when I was starting to feel good at the plate."

"He's obviously had a couple of things go on," Renteria said. "Anytime you have an interruption, it can throw the rhythm off a little bit, but he's still making adjustments just like anybody else and learning how to do it at the major league level. He'll be fine."

Just like there are no long-term concerns over Jimenez's hip, Renteria showed there are no concerns over Jimenez's long-term prospects as a dominant bat in the middle of the White Sox batting order of the future. It certainly wouldn't be unexpected, come 2020, to see Jimenez make a jump similar to the one Moncada made this season.

But in the middle of a season spent learning what big league pitchers are trying to do against him, the injuries haven't helped Jimenez.

He's surely hoping this brief absence stemming from the hip issue is the last of them in 2019.

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