Following the rest of this series is a little up in the air for me this weekend, and I’d like to shake things up in the dog days anyway. The most noteworthy part of the series, barring more Moncada heroics or neighborly spats turned benches cleared (good for the soul sometimes), was the White Sox debut of Reynaldo Lopez last night. Has been inevitable for a while now, and he made the most of his first start last night. Deserves a full breakdown.
Giolito was the headliner initially for the Eaton deal, but Lopez was the one coming in with actual major league experience. I thought it was a couple starts and relief appearances back in Washington but didn’t realize until this week that he pitched in the NLDS. The fastball is what you notice first, flirting with triple digits on occasion, and the slider complements that very well- 85 with a lot of movement. Throws a good curve and, on the rare occasion, a change-up (we’ll get into that later).
Good first impression on the leadoff batter: Merrifield watches a slider go by for a called third. Fastball coming in at 97 mph pretty consistently, and he’s hitting his spots with it for the most part. He really brings the heat next at-bat, getting Cain swinging at 98 on the gun. Lot of scouts have said we’ll probably be getting used to that.
Dances around Hosmer a little too much and forces the walk. Standing ovation follows- Melky Cabrera returns to the Southside for his first game as a Royal. (A pretty funny moment when we’re all sitting back down and the guy next to me yells “Now strike him out!” with great comedic timing.) Gets him to fly out to shallow left. Hit 99 and 100 in this inning supposedly- guessing that’s the hometown speed gun talking.
The filthiest thing I saw all night came in the first at-bat against Moose: fouls off four fastballs and is down 1-2. Throws another fastball out of the zone (98) and follows it up with a 78 mph curve to get him swinging. Almost unfair, that bait.
Have said in a previous post about Rodon that young strikeout-oriented pitchers make me a little nervous: the huge upside for them is outs without a ball put in play, the downside is my three sins of strikeout pitchers. The first sin is catching on to the gameplan right away: eventually the Royals start watching a lot of curveballs, which a strikeout pitcher tends to throw for less accuracy. If trying to just get an out (usually a groundout), it has to be in the zone enough for the batter to swing at with enough movement to negate solid contact. A strikeout pitcher will want much more movement with less intent to throw a strike: doesn’t matter if it’s in the zone or in the dirt if the outcome is the batter swinging and missing. Royals catch on and adjust accordingly.
Lopez walks one and strikes out the next two- slider working early. Four change-ups supposedly thrown to Gordon, which would surprise me.
The second sin of strikeout pitchers? Pitch count. Five strikeouts, 42 pitches through 2.
Butera lines out on the first pitch, which is the best thing that could’ve happened to Lopez. He needs a quick inning if he’ll make it through six. The next at-bat doesn’t help: he walks Merrifield, luckily not wasting many pitches in doing so. I’m curious to see how he adjusts his gameplan for a situation where I’d assume he’d look to forcing a double play. He does no such thing: baits Cain with an off speed then blows him away with a fastball. Gets a first pitch pop up the next at-bat, and he’s out of the inning on ten pitches.
The first sin of strikeout pitchers: the hitters adjust accordingly
The second sin: high pitch counts
The third sin: you miss your spot, you’re in trouble. Home run trouble.
It happens to every single strikeout pitcher, most obviously with Rodon and Shields. It was also my one critique of Chris Sale: a lot of lines featuring 10 K’s, 1 home run. The more you dance around batters and the more bait pitches you throw, the more pitches they hit the living snot out of when you miss your spot. Case in point: Moustakas.
I thought it was a change-up Lopez threw there, apparently it was a hung slider. He wasn’t using it as a bait pitch so much as he did the curveball, but sometimes your slider doesn’t- well, slide. Moonshot to the right field bleachers, lead cut in half.
The Royals get more aggressive at the plate this time through the order, following the homer with two hits on two pitches. Now I’m really curious to see what he does in a less implied double play situation. The foul out to hold ‘em was probably the highlight of the inning (another good outcome for strikeout pitchers).
Great diving catch by Engel saves Lopez the runner on nobody out trouble. Slider still coming in at around 85, but the fastball is losing some of the heat. (More of a fastball pitcher problem than a strikeout pitcher problem, but those overlap more often than not). Not sure if it’s necessarily a result of this, but Cain had a collision with the wall earlier in the game that it looked like his wrist took the brunt of. Lopez, that in mind or me looking to far into it, jams him for the foul out to first. If so that’s a great pitching mindset.
Tim has trouble with a ground ball and Abreu saves him with a pick. Seemed to catch him off guard, and understood: it was Lopez’s first groundout of the game.
Lopez likely done after this. Was likely done before the Moose home run, but that probably sealed the deal (and unfortunately cost him the win). Homer came on a change-up, which going in I’d heard Lopez throws very sparingly. Like, four change-ups a game sparingly. He can get outs on his regular pitches, and it’s rare to be really, really good throwing five different pitches. Eventually we might be forcing the issue on those change-ups. Gets a groundout and a pop out to close it out.
Overall there’s a lot of potential here for him. When he’s on he’s filthy: some of those 98’s on the corner and late moving sliders were absolutely unhittable. Six K’s are nice, but the wins are better, and unfortunately only two mistakes were enough to cost him that victory. Have a feeling he’ll have a couple more of those games before this rebuild moves to phase two. So it goes here.
Pray for the league