Reynaldo López writes himself back into White Sox’s story

(Kamil Krzaczynski/USA TODAY Sports)

When the White Sox were getting by on miraculously timed contributions from cast-offs and unheralded prospects, their position-player depth looked passable in large part because their starting pitching depth went largely untouched. Aside from a few Jimmy Lambert appearances (usually prompted by doubleheaders), the White Sox only had a couple of spot starts to fill, and it was a pleasure to hand Michael Kopech those opportunities. They just haven’t needed the rotational equivalent of Billy Hamilton, Jake Lamb or Gavin Sheets to carry the day for three turns before reinforcements arrived.

Even now with Carlos Rodón on the injured list with shoulder fatigue, Reynaldo López doesn’t need to show up in a meaningful form. The decision to shelve Rodón appeared to be precautionary, and the White Sox have an 11-game lead. The only thing López needed to do is help cross a day off the calendar.

But here he is, being the pitching equivalent of Jake Burger or Brian Goodwin anyway. His five scoreless innings against the A’s Tuesday night lowered his ERA to 1.08 over 11 games and 25 innings. He’s allowed just 18 baserunners (11 hits, seven walks) while striking out 26. It wouldn’t surprise me if López benefited from facing Oakland hitters who had their minds on other things, but López didn’t need the other team’s lineup to be fully engaged in order to find trouble in the past.

All López can control is what he brings to the mound, and it sounds like he’s fully present.

“I’ve been working hard physically and mentally to improve and get better and get to this point,” López said. “It has made a huge difference.

“I feel in a very good position right now. The biggest difference is that I have confidence in my pitches. I can throw any pitch in any count. I’m not afraid of missing a location because I have that confidence.”

I’ve been loath to lean too heavily on López’s supposed confidence issues, the way I’m suspicious when Steve Stone says a pitcher is struggling because he’s working slowly. In both cases, they seem more likely to be symptoms than causes. A pitcher whose stuff inspires faith would be more confident, whereas a pitcher who is grasping for a sequence might give off every sign of searching.

López had reasons to not want to throw the ball last year. An early shoulder issue took a tick off his velocity, and he’s not somebody who should be throwing his breaking ball more. That put him in a corner he couldn’t punch his way out of, and if the White Sox non-tendered him, you could understand if everybody saw a dead end.

As was the case with Rodón, there were reasons to wonder if a new pitching coach might be able to get him back on track. And it’s possible Ethan Katz has helped, just on a timeline that seems a lot more reasonable than Rodón’s sudden renaissance.

López showed up to spring training with a shorter armswing, but it didn’t help him regain the power immediately. Whether he needed some time to adjust to the more compact delivery, or whether the cornea surgeries he had in May to address blurry vision removed a distraction, it makes sense that he’d need a few months in the minors to get mind and body to click. His 7.62 ERA in Charlotte makes everything he’s doing now look unsustainable, but it obscures that he threw his best two outings of the year over his last three starts with the Knights.

The results are so disparate that it’s hard to know what to grasp. He’s not as bad as his Charlotte ERA, but he’s not going to keep posting a 1.08 ERA or stranding 94 percent of his runners. Then what?

Then we’re back to where we started, which might be fine.

* * * * * * * * *

López doesn’t look like a new guy, but an improved version of the old one. The fastball is back to averaging 96 instead of 94, so he’s back to throwing it more than 60 percent of the time. The mechanics look more repeatable, with the armswing dramatically shorter in the back, and his glove hand no longer taking a high-arcing route to the plate in the front. His release point, which had risen during the 2019 season, is now even lower than it was in 2018.

He’s getting a little more spin, a little more carry, a little more jump. None of the individual pitch characteristics jump off the page even after the improvements, but they didn’t back in 2018, either.

Of course, the problem with pointing to López’s 2018 is that it wasn’t necessarily great recipe for success. ERA liked him (3.91), but FIP wasn’t impressed (4.63) and DRA detested him (6.37). When he flopped with a 5.38 ERA in 2019, it was disappointing, but not all that surprising. Going back to that well almost seems like an attempt to beat regression twice.

But baseball’s a tough game, and it’s hard to generate even one way to make yourself useful. If López’s talent doesn’t lend itself to reinvention, then he only may be able to optimize the formula.

The good news is that he left a little room for tweaking before it’s back to crossing fingers for better execution. The hope is that López regained the velocity that gave him more of a margin for error while stripping the bloat in his delivery that introduced more errors. It’s an uneasy existence, but the suspense makes him fun to watch in his own way. You can basically scout him by the success of the hitters’ swings. It all makes a restoration entirely possible, but hard to confirm.

Fortunately, the White Sox don’t yet have to plan around it. They have five starters without him, and they’ll only need four at most for the postseason. Every extra start he earns is a luxury, because the Sox lead the division by 11 games, so they can run López out there with the sole purpose of eating a game. Wins are a bonus. Should López maintains this form through the rest of the season and looks like in-house rotation insulation, so much the better.

(Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports)

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MrStealYoBase

“Useless as a starter. Useless as a reliever”

-Me talking about Lopez less than 4 months ago

This is what makes being a fan fun.

calcetinesblancos

He wouldn’t have to be amazing to be a useful piece moving forward. But only if he’s put his patented meltdown behind him.

GrabSomeBench

The Sox will probably be unable to re-sign Rodon next year and Kopech will take his spot in the rotation. Lopez can become the Kopech reliever next year. Baby steps. If the sox do sign Rodon, Keuchel will probably be traded and Kopech is in the rotation either way.

ImmortalTimeTravelMan

Trade him in the off season. I’d give up 2 years of Lopez for 1 year of Haniger any day…

LamarHoyt_oncrack

Of course, but he will have to show a lot more to have that kind of trade value. I doubt other teams will be knocking on the door for him just yet, or make a great offer for him.

It will be very interesting to watch his next couple of starts, to see if the miracle continues.

Won’t take much more, given the Dodgers signing Cole Hamels and Jake Arieta,

jhomeslice

Pretty incredible turnaround, astounding skeptics like me. Nobody could have expected after a 7.5+ ERA at AAA, even if his last couple outings there were ok.

Hopefully he can prove it out over a longer timeframe, though he is probably not going to post an ERA in the low 1’s (if he does, then I would be happy to be counted as the village idiot who doubted). Any contribution would be great considering his year prior to getting called back up.

soxygen

Yeah, long term he may always live on the edge of MLB viability, but he is giving the Sox exactly what we need for 2021 (#6 starter/swing man) and 2022 (depth & maybe even trade value). Didn’t expect this, but it is very welcome.

lifelongjd

The more one considers all of the surprising performances and incredible bounce backs from the list of players the Sox have had to use unexpectedly, the more it points to this being a magical season. Add Lopez to the long list of players who didn’t generate a lot of buzz and much doubt when called upon who exceeded expectations considerably.

Jason

Now imagine if Moncada starts performing, time for Jerry to scout some new rings.