The Chicago White Sox lost for the first time in the young 2018 season on Monday night to the Toronto Blue Jays and it couldn’t have mattered less thanks to an absolute gem of a performance from Reynaldo Lopez.
The 37 White Sox fans enthralled with the “All-In” campaigns of the last decade and change might be watching wins and losses, but the reality of the situation on the South Side is that 2018 is about development. Sure, Rick Renteria will want to teach a young nucleus how to win games along the way whenever possible, but players like Lopez hold the fortune in their hands.
So watching him methodically dismantle a solid Blue Jays lineup multiple times through was everything you could have dreamed of on Monday.
Lopez hit 99 on the gun, settled in comfortably at 95-97 with an average velocity of 95.9 mph on his four-seam fastball. There are certainly more pressing issues than velocity with him, but everything generally works better when he’s sitting in that tier of flame-throwing rather than when he’s running it up at 93-95.
More importantly, he effectively mixed in both his changeup and cutter/slider, generating a total of eight swings and missed with them and generally missing bats whenever he generated a swing with his off-speed stuff. Those are the battles he has to win routinely if he’s going to realize his front-of-rotation potential.
Lopez also worked inside extensively against both righties and lefties. That shows a general confidence in both his stuff and his ability to locate after working primarily in against left-handed hitting and taking a more balanced approach against right-handed hitting in 2017.
That philosophical shift guarantees no particular outcome but is generally indicative of a mindset that should suit Lopez well moving forward. Work inside, throw the fastball for strikes, utilize the changeup effectively from behind to protect against the relatively straight-laced nature of that heater and then go to the breaking ball as the wipeout pitch.
It’s far from a revolutionary approach but, if utilized consistently, it’ll establish a more replicable baseline. Whereas, in the past, he might have felt the need to overpower a lineup like the Blue Jays.
Comfort is a byproduct of both personal development and a breathable working situation, and it’s clear that the White Sox have provided that for Reynaldo Lopez. He’s no longer in “I have to dazzle” mode and it suited him extremely well on Monday night.
It’s still there if he needs it. However, in a rotation that could feature himself, Lucas Giolito, Carlos Rodon, Michael Kopech and Carson Fulmer by season’s end with Alec Hansen, Dylan Cease, Dane Dunning and Spencer Adams (among others) on the outside looking in, starts like Monday night will be what makes Lopez a fixture in the middle of the rotation.
Now, we can practically skip over anything that happens on the mound on Tuesday with Miguel Gonzalez starting. Fulmer’s start on Wednesday will be of similar importance to the White Sox.
The difference is, Fulmer’s more tentative place in the organization’s future (is he a starter or reliever?) hasn’t afforded him the same level of comfort and it’s showed through the spring. They’re still going to be patient, but he can start erasing lingering doubt by beginning to string together solid starts early in the year.
That’s what makes this year so exciting for White Sox fans, though. Lopez has put himself on a path to come into his own this year. Even if Fulmer can’t (or if Lopez falls off), the organization has dynamic arms eager to prove themselves with those innings waiting in the wings.
Which is why with that sort of pressure, it’s so encouraging to see Lopez pitch as he did on Monday. As if there was no pressure whatsoever.
That individual start doesn’t guarantee him anything. But it’s exactly the sort of data point you want to start with. The next step is creating a cluster.
It might not sound particularly sexy, but sexy is no longer necessary for Lopez. 99 is nice, but all-in all the time is exactly what this organization is trying to avoid right now.
Monday was a perfect example of what they are looking for. Let’s hope Wednesday (and if Tuesday wants to party, why-the-heck not?) follows suit.