CHICAGO -- Reynaldo Lopez had a rough July. The young right-hander seemed to have lost the feel and rhythm he had early this season, pitching to a 7.39 ERA in five starts last month. That ugliness culminated in an eight-run, five-homer performance last Friday, after which Lopez admitted he'd been having trouble focusing on the mound.
It was an entirely different story on Thursday afternoon, however, with the calendar having turned to August. Lopez rebounded from that career-worst outing to toss seven-plus stellar innings as the White Sox beat the Royals, 6-4, at Guaranteed Rate Field in the series finale.
"I was focused today," Lopez said through team interpreter Billy Russo. "I felt very good. At the end, it was a crazy end. [Daniel] Palka had the big hit for us today. It was a very emotional game, a very intense game.''
Lopez's struggle to focus got to the point where manager Rick Renteria, pitching coach Don Cooper and bullpen coach Curt Hasler sat down with him to make sure nothing was physically wrong, Renteria said earlier this week. Though Lopez could not pinpoint exactly what distracted him, he "truly felt like he wasn't focused on doing his job," Renteria had said.
But Lopez quashed any doubts about his ability to focus with his performance Thursday. Lopez pitched into the eighth inning for the fourth time this season. The five hits allowed tied his fewest since his June 5 start against the Twins, when he held Minnesota to one hit in seven scoreless innings.
"Focus is the key for you to have success. For me today, the focus was throwing the first pitch for a strike, being able to command the zone," Lopez said. "Before the game, I said to myself, 'Forget about the outside noise, forget about everything. Just think about the game, the pitches you need to execute,' and I think that was a key for me today."
"You could see he was on a little bit of a mission to execute," Renteria said. "It really has to do with knowing that you're gonna have so many starts during the course of a big-league season, and every single one of them matters. … Focus is really important; it's not being uptight or stressed, it's just focus and trying to get the best out of yourself."
After allowing the first two Royals to reach base in the eighth, Lopez was removed from the game, and both runners came home on Whit Merrifield's three-run pinch-hit homer. Lopez was charged with two runs, but the White Sox responded in the bottom of the inning, when Jose Abreu hit a one-out solo home run, and Daniel Palka followed with a three-run pinch-hit homer of his own.
Palka's home run was his third pinch-hit long ball of the season, tying him with Oscar Gamble in 1977 for most pinch-hit homers in a season in franchise history. But what was different this time, Palka said, is that he came up to bat thinking about hitting one out.
"Yeah, 100 percent, homer," Palka said. "Seriously. I wanted a ball up I can hit. He gave me one."
In a franchise that has made several acquisitions for top prospects, Palka flew under the radar when the White Sox claimed him off waivers from the Twins last November. But he's become a central part of Chicago's offense this year, ranking second on the team with 16 home runs.
Despite that, Renteria said that acquiring Palka was no accident.
"There was an expectation that there was the ability for him to do basically what he's doing," Renteria said. "We knew he had pop; it was in practical terms [of] how applicable would it be, like he's doing right now.
"He's just driven. He's a person who's trying to be himself and trying to show what he can do."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Abreu moves into 10th: Abreu's eighth-inning home run was the 141st of his career, moving him into sole possession of 10th all-time in White Sox history. Abreu had been tied with Ron Kittle.
"Once Pito hit that homer, the energy in the dugout changed big time," Palka said. "To get it started like that was big."
During the White Sox eighth-inning rally, the Royals issued an intentional walk to Omar Narvaez. It was just the third time in Narvaez's career he's been walked intentionally. Narvaez is hitting .407 (35-for-86) with four home runs over his past 27 games.
• Royals' Phillips wows with defense in center field
HE SAID IT
"He's probably really upset right now, even though he's expressing the joy of victory, that, 'Gosh, I'm going to have to start making adjustments or the guys behind me are gonna start making adjustments,' and I'd say probably I'm gonna have to make adjustments as a hitter. Take it out of the umpire's hands." -- Renteria, on Yoan Moncada striking out four times looking
The White Sox head to St. Petersburg for a three-game series with the Rays starting Friday at 6:10 p.m. CT. Lucas Giolito (7-8, 6.26 ERA) goes for Chicago, seeking to rebound from a five-run outing. Giolito had a relatively solid July and brought his ERA down from the mid 7s to the low 6s.