White Sox

Signs of progress abound for White Sox, but Reynaldo Lopez seems to be going in opposite direction

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USA TODAY

Signs of progress abound for White Sox, but Reynaldo Lopez seems to be going in opposite direction

Tuesday's performance wasn't Reynaldo Lopez's worst outing of the 2019 season. But it was perhaps the most frustrating for White Sox fans watching at home.

Lopez got plenty of support early in the first of a two-game series against the Washington Nationals, the White Sox offense scoring four runs off Stephen Strasburg in the first inning and adding another in the second. Lopez was handed a 5-0 lead after an inning and a half.

But it didn't take long for that lead to evaporate. Anthony Rendon followed up his two-run double in the bottom of the third with a three-run homer in the bottom of the fifth, completely erasing that 5-0 gap and chasing Lopez after just four innings of work.

It was another head-scratching display from Lopez, who was the White Sox most reliable starting pitcher in 2018. He finished that campaign in stellar fashion, with a razor-thin 1.13 ERA and 41 strikeouts over his final six starts of the season.

This time around, things have been completely different. After Tuesday's brief outing, Lopez's season ERA jumped up to 6.62. He's got more starts in which he's given up four or more runs than starts in which he's given up three runs or fewer.

As Lucas Giolito has transformed from, statistically, the worst starting pitcher in baseball in 2018 to one of the game's best through the first two months of 2019; as Tim Anderson has stepped onto baseball's national stage; as Yoan Moncada has bounced back from an ugly 2018 campaign; as the White Sox have seen an increase in wins as the rebuilding progress becomes more and more tangible; Lopez has gone in the opposite direction.

The White Sox entered this series in D.C. fresh off Giolito's latest gem and his being named the American League Pitcher of the Month. A positive performance from Lopez on Tuesday would have gone a long way toward backing up the feeling that the Adam Eaton trade ahead of the 2017 season was a coup for Rick Hahn's front office. It could still be that, of course, as the jury will be out until the White Sox are back in contention mode with Giolito, Lopez and Dane Dunning either a part of the rotation of the future — or not.

Tuesday was just one game, but it's been one bad look after another for Lopez in 2019, who figured to be in line to take another step forward after looking like a potential impact pitcher in the making during the 2018 season. He's struggling to find what made him so effective so often last year, and just like Giolito's routinely brief and damage-filled outings scrubbed him from fan and observer projections last season, now Lopez is being removed from those forecasts.

Certainly we've seen flashes this season of what got everyone so excited about Lopez last season. He struck out 14 Detroit Tigers on April 28 and called his 7.2 innings of one-run ball against the Cleveland Indians on May 13 his best start in a White Sox uniform. But outings like those have been the exception rather than the rule during the first two-plus months of this series.

There's plenty of optimism surrounding the White Sox rotation of the future thanks to Giolito, Dunning, Michael Kopech and Dylan Cease. But in a matter of months, Lopez has gone from a part of that confidence-inspiring group to a guy with an unknown long-term future. That's just the reality of the fluidity of fan opinion.

But until Lopez rediscovers the consistency he had through portions of his solid 2018 season, this will continue to look like a step backward among a group of players taking steps forward as the rebuild moves along.

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Eloy Jimenez hammers home White Sox need for outside fix: 'I don't feel comfortable playing DH'

Eloy Jimenez hammers home White Sox need for outside fix: 'I don't feel comfortable playing DH'

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Eloy Jimenez has said it before, but in case you needed a reminder, he's got one for you.

“I don’t feel comfortable playing DH,” he said in an interview with MLB.com's Jon Morosi on Monday. “I like playing the outfield. I don’t care if it’s right field or left field, but I feel comfortable in the outfield. I don’t like being the DH. For me, it’s boring.

“Maybe one time in my career — when I’m 35 or 37 — I can DH. But not now.”

So that suggestion that the White Sox can plug their hole at designated hitter with Jimenez? Forget about it.

That never really seemed like it was going to happen, anyway, despite a defensive performance in left field during the 2019 season that sparked questions of where Jimenez's long-term future will be. Manager Rick Renteria went as far as saying that he believed the White Sox wouldn't be doing what was best for the young slugger if the team moved him to a full-time DH role so early in his career.

"He's too young for me to view him as a DH, to be honest,” Renteria said in August. “And I think he's shown so much improvement in the outfield that it would be, I think, derelict on my part and on our part as an organization to limit the ability for him to play on both sides of the baseball.

“He's an extremely hard worker, he's very conscientious, he's been going through a lot of the things that we need him to go through. He sincerely has improved out there a lot. And so we want to see if we can maximize his ability to do everything he can as a Major League Baseball player.

“And then time will tell us. If that ends up ultimately being his lot — I don't foresee that. But if that ultimately becomes his lot, that becomes his lot. But I think right now we're going to continue to use him on both sides of the baseball, for sure.”

Indeed, Jimenez looked like a defensive work in progress in left field during his rookie season. He had plenty of less-than-graceful plays, communication errors, minus-11 Defensive Runs Saved and a couple of trips to the injured list sparked by miscues in left field. But Jimenez views himself as an all-around player, as do the White Sox, and he obviously has plenty of time to develop into just that. He's already got the power down, with 31 homers as a rookie.

His comments to Morosi hammer home the need for the White Sox to look outside their own roster to fill that hole at designated hitter, where they got some of the worst production in the American League last season. Jimenez harbors the same opinion toward the position that Jose Abreu does, the free-agent first baseman who's still expected to re-sign with the White Sox saying numerous times how much he dislikes DH-ing. Zack Collins might find the job more palatable, and the White Sox are looking for ways to get his bat in the lineup more often. But he remains a bit of a mystery from a production standpoint and wouldn't figure to line up for a shot at an everyday job at this very early stage of his career.

J.D. Martinez deciding to stay in Boston and stay away from this winter's free-agent market took the perfect solution off the board. But that market or the trade market — one that could still include the possibility of Martinez coming to the South Side — still seem the best way for Rick Hahn's front office to find a fix.

One thing's looks to be certain: Jimenez isn't signing up for everyday DH duty any time soon.

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Eloy Jiménez: Worth the wait

Eloy Jiménez: Worth the wait

With Eloy Jiménez, we had to wait.

We had to wait for him to debut in the Majors. After laying waste to minor league pitching in 2018, he was in the 2019 opening day lineup.

We had to wait for that first home run. He started his MLB career with 11 singles in his first 10 games. His first extra-base hit was in his next game. Then in game number twelve, he finally homered. Twice.

He was the 11th player in White Sox history whose first 2 career long ones were in the same game. 

Eloy Jiménez Apirl 12, 2019
José Abreu April 8, 2014
Brian Anderson August 26, 2005
Brian Simmons September 26, 1998
Greg Pryor September 8, 1978
Wayne Nordhagen August 25, 1977
Carlos May April 9, 1969
Tom McCraw June 19, 1963
Brian McCall September 30, 1962
Don Kolloway June 28, 1941
Zeke Bonura April 18, 1934

My favorite fun fact from that breakout performance: Jiménez was the first player to hit his first 2 MLB home runs in the same game as a visitor at Yankee Stadium (old or new) since [former White Sox great] Manny Ramírez on September 3, 1993.

But then we had to wait again. Because he kept homering on the road. His first 8 career MLB blasts were all on the road. He's the third White Sox player whose first 8 career MLB home runs all came as a visiting player. The others were Nellie Fox (his first 9 were on the road spanning from 1951-54) and Johnny Mostil (his first 8 were on the road in 1921-22).

That first home run at Guaranteed Rate Field came on June 11, and it went FAR,  and from that point forward he hit 11 on the road and 12 at home.

Number 30 came on September 22 in Detroit, and with that came a few more interesting notes.

Jiménez is one of only three White Sox to hit 30+ home runs as a rookie. 

1983 Ron Kittle 35
2014 José Abreu 36
2019 Eloy Jiménez 31

Jiménez is the youngest player in White Sox history at the time of his 30th HR of the season. 

22 y, 299 d Eloy Jiménez 2019
23 y, 98 d Frank Thomas 1991
25 y, 75 d Bill Melton 1970

And perhaps most impressively, Jiménez is one of only 11 players in MLB history to hit 30+ home runs in his debut season. Here's that list:

1930 Wally Berger Braves 38
1939 Ted Williams Red Sox 31
1956 Frank Robinson Reds 38
1963 Jimmie Hall Twins 33
1986 Pete Incaviglia Rangers 30
2001 Albert Pujols Cardinals 37
2007 Ryan Braun Brewers 34
2014 José Abreu White Sox 36
2017 Cody Bellinger Dodgers 39
2019 Pete Alonso Mets 53
2019 Eloy Jiménez White Sox 31

Jiménez finished his rookie campaign on a tear, pummeling pitching for a .321/.355/.604 clip over his last 46 games. At last the waiting was over. Eloy Jiménez had arrived.

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