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López finds 'key to success' in mental focus

@scottmerkin
March 3, 2020

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The work remains the thing for White Sox right-hander Reynaldo López as Spring Training moves from February to March and inches closer to the regular season. It’s not necessarily about Cactus League results, with López allowing one run on three hits over three innings in Oakland’s 6-5

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The work remains the thing for White Sox right-hander Reynaldo López as Spring Training moves from February to March and inches closer to the regular season.

It’s not necessarily about Cactus League results, with López allowing one run on three hits over three innings in Oakland’s 6-5 victory Tuesday at Camelback Ranch. It’s also not about instantly erasing the troubles of 2019, where López’s career-worst 5.38 ERA represented a jump from 3.91 in 2018.

“My goal right now or my focus right now is in my work,” López said. “Do my work, try to do my work every day as best as you can, and the results are going to be there.

“That was one of the things I didn’t have last year. That focus on my work every day, day in and day out. That’s something I have this year. That’s something that’s going to be the key for me to have success this year.”

López’s 61-pitch effort Tuesday marked his first ’20 Cactus League start, after his scheduled trip to the mound during the team’s opener against the Angels was rained out on February 22. He struck out three, walked three and threw 31 strikes.

All of López’s pitches worked against Oakland, and López specifically liked the way his slider operated against left-handed hitters, fulfilling one of his Tuesday plans. López didn’t like falling behind a few times and the walks he issued.

In order to prepare for this season, López worked at the Mamba Academy in Los Angeles along with rotation-mate Lucas Giolito and Mets ace Noah Syndergaard. He also approached the mental side of the game by talking to Dr. Jeffrey Fishbein, the White Sox team psychologist, at the end of last season and then meeting with another psychologist in the Dominican Republic during the offseason.

An app called Headspace has helped López, and there was a center at the Mamba Academy guiding athletes to improve their focus. Giolito is a great example of how fortunes can turn around through diligent work and key adjustments, going from the most earned runs allowed in baseball in ’18 to finishing tied for sixth in the American League Cy Young voting in 2019.

“After Lucas’ first season, they wanted to run him out of town. Now he could run for mayor, which is something I don’t really go for, all of that stuff,” White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper said. “In my mind, I’m in it for the long haul and I know it takes time. I’ve seen it take time.”

“It’s all there,” said White Sox general manager Rick Hahn of López. “It’s just a matter of getting it out on a more consistent basis.”

Hahn pointed to the glimpses of excellence in López from the struggles of ’19, including his 14-strikeout effort against the Tigers on April 28, where he was primarily reliant on four-seamers, and his one-hitter thrown in Cleveland on Sept. 5, where he also fanned 11 by relying on his changeup and some sliders. On the flip side, there was a game on Sept. 22 in Detroit where manager Rick Renteria strode to the mound with a clear disapproving purpose after he didn’t like López’s focus to start.

At that point, Renteria’s right arm was in a cumbersome sling following rotator cuff surgery and he was not doing any mound visits. But López is working to put rough moments like that one behind him.

“It’s not that easy to keep your focus on just one thing when there is a bunch of other things happening in the same moment,” López said. “But that’s something you have to learn. At the same time, you are trying to see what you can do better.

“You are trying to see videos, trying to do a bunch of other stuff just to see what you can improve. There’s so much information. There are a lot of things around. It’s not easy when you need to focus on something specific. You need to be really really focused and to be prepared.”

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin and Facebook and listen to his podcast.