A White Sox starting rotation that's been without 40 percent of its pitchers for much of the season just got a little more whole.
The team brought Reynaldo López off the injured list Saturday, just in time for him to start the second game of the ongoing weekend series with the Crosstown-rival Cubs.
López got just two outs in his 2020 debut back on July 26 against the Minnesota Twins before he had to leave with a shoulder injury. He went on the IL the following day and missed the last four weeks while recovering from shoulder soreness.
Considering the number of injuries the White Sox have dealt with this season, getting anyone back from the injured list is a positive from the standpoint of having all the expected options at the team's disposal. There was much discussion about a seemingly large amount of starting-pitching depth before the season started. But Michael Kopech's decision not to play this year and injuries to López, Carlos Rodón and Jimmy Lambert soaked up that depth quicker than the White Sox would have hoped. Still, the starting rotation has put up strong numbers after a rocky first turn through.
López, though, came into 2020 with a lot to prove, and he obviously didn't get a chance to do that in such a brief outing last month. It was rather impossible to reach any conclusion about his attempt at a bounce-back campaign in two-thirds of an inning, even if he did give up a grand slam, as he admitted to being hurt during that start.
But a month after the season began, he still has all those things to prove. During the 2018 season, he was perhaps the White Sox best starting pitcher. Then came a 2019 campaign full of inconsistencies and woeful numbers. He finished the year with a 5.38 ERA, allowing 110 runs, more than any pitcher in baseball, in his 33 starts. He gave up 35 home runs.
His 2019 season was not without its flashes of brilliance, however. He struck out 14 Detroit Tigers in a dominating performance in late April, and he struck out 11 Cleveland Indians in a complete-game win in September. He pledged he'd be a different pitcher after the All-Star break, and he backed that promise up, for a bit, with a 2.82 ERA in his first nine starts of the second half. It's those tantalizing moments that make the White Sox believe there's still front-of-the-rotation potential in López and his right arm.
López talked much during spring training and "Summer Camp" about the overhaul of his mental approach in the offseason, sounding not dissimilar from Lucas Giolito, whose offseason revamp after the 2018 season transformed him into an All Star and the ace of the South Side staff.
"Sometimes as players we are struggling on thoughts, especially nervous thoughts when something goes wrong. And for players, that’s one of the bigger challenges. 'Get over it, keep moving forward.' It’s not always easy," López said last month through team interpreter Billy Russo. "I used to think one of the most important things for us, especially for me, was just the physical part of the game. I was wrong. That was one of the reasons I kept failing. Because I wasn’t prepared mentally to face those situations, to face those thoughts.
"I realized that, and that was one of the reasons I stayed here in the U.S. during the offseason and why I approached the team psychologist to work with that, to try to enhance my mind and get rid of all that other stuff and to deal with it in a way I could use it as an advantage and not a disadvantage of my game.
"It’s already helping a lot, and that is going to help me a lot going forward because now I know how to deal with different situations, now I know how to be prepared for different situations and that’s a big difference for me. I’m a better player because my mind is stronger and prepared for situations. It will be very good for me."
That's not to say López will experience as drastic of a step in his evolution as Giolito did now that he's returned to full health, physically. But it's a potentially important factor when it comes to figuring out whether he'll be a part of the White Sox long-term pitching puzzle or not.
He won't have much time to show it in this shortened season, with a little more than a month remaining in the 60-game campaign. But he can get started on that process. And it starts Saturday night at Wrigley Field.
"I worked very very hard during the offseason to improve my game," López said. "I've been working on that since I started in the offseason. I worked on that even in the break. For me, it's just what can I do better, what can I do next, how can I improve. That's all that I've been trying to do. That's the way for me just to get better, keeping that mindset, keep working on that stuff that I've been working on since the break. Fundamentally, that's going to give me the chance to get better this season and to improve."