If prized prospect Reynaldo Lopez felt any nervousness on Friday night it was seemingly undetectable.
The starting pitcher impressed from the outset and energized the Guaranteed Rate Field crowd in his White Sox debut as he pumped 97-mph fastballs while only making a few mistakes. The first player to emerge from the December trade that sent Adam Eaton to the Washington Nationals, Lopez lived up to the hype with six strikeouts in six strong innings as the White Sox downed the Kansas City Royals 6-3. At no point did Lopez, who earned a no decision, better demonstrate the poise that made him the No. 59 prospect in baseball than when he pitched out of a fourth-inning jam to protect a one-run lead.
“He got through that great,” catcher Kevan Smith said. “Obviously got a couple hits off him there. He kept his poise. He made some great pitches in some counts he was behind on that I was proud of him about. That was a great inning for him to have there in the middle because he was kind of cruising a little bit. I was like, when’s he going to hit some adversity here? He got through it and it was a good one.”
Solid reviews poured in from every corner of the building for Lopez, who threw 36 four-seam fastballs at an average of 96.5 mph. Working with a three-pitch mix, Lopez started to attack as soon as his introductory applause died down. The right-hander struck out a pair in the first inning and struck out the side in the second inning as well. While Lopez walked a batter in each of his first three innings, he also remained hitless.
“He’s a good pitcher, man,” said Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas. “He’s got some good stuff. Great fastball. Great changeup. Great slider. He’s going to be a good pitcher in this league. So you got to tip your hat to him.”
Ironically, Lopez wound up tipping his hat twice to Moustakas after he struck him out in their first encounter. Moustakas ended Lopez’s no-hit bid with one out in the fourth inning with a long home run to right field to get the Royals within 2-1. The blast temporarily derailed Lopez, who allowed consecutive singles to Cheslor Cuthbert and Alcides Escobar afterward.
The third straight hit off Lopez brought pitching coach Don Cooper out to the mound. But Lopez didn’t break as he escaped further damage. Alex Gordon flew out to shallow center and Drew Butera fouled out to end the inning.
“He looked comfortable, too,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He didn't look very nervous to be honest. He looked like he was in the right place. Everything he did was very much under control.
“We were hoping it would look that way.”
Lopez was proud just to have the chance. The effort came only a week after Lopez said he felt like he was ready for a shot at the majors following an outstanding July. Lopez was named the organization’s minor league pitcher of the month in July after he posted a 2.10 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 30 innings.
Having pitched 44 innings in the big leagues last season, Lopez has believed all along he’s ready to be here. He said it had been difficult at times not to already be in the majors but he was happy with the patience he’d shown the White Sox.
Lopez was even happier with his performance on Friday, particularly how he escaped the fourth-inning jam. While he surrendered the lead in the sixth when he allowed a solo homer, Lopez and Smith think the youngster produced a good effort on which to build.
“I know that I’m going to allow some hits,” Lopez said. “But I think that the key is just to keep your focus on the game and keep your confidence and that was what all I did. I gave up three hits in a row but then I kept my confidence and I was able to get out of that inning.
“My key today was just my focus. I was focused all the game and I was able to command all my pitches.”