'Brothers' Rodón, López embrace battle

Competition heats up over fifth starter spot

March 12th, 2021

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Carlos Rodón seemed to be waiting for one particular Zoom question following the White Sox left-hander’s appearance in a 7-4 loss to the Reds at Goodyear Ballpark on Thursday night.

That question wasn’t about Rodón’s two scoreless innings during his 2021 Cactus League debut. But instead it dealt with the fifth starter’s competition going on this spring with Reynaldo López, who started Thursday night ahead of Rodón.

Both pitchers are aware of what’s taking place and what’s at stake. Both pitchers really aren’t focused on the other one’s good or bad performances.

“I’m glad you asked that,” said Rodón of the López question. “Reynaldo and I play catch together. We are throw partners. We are like brothers. It’s a friendly competition. I’m always pulling for him, and I know he’s pulling for me. So that thing will take care of itself and whatever it is, it is.”

“This game is about competition, and I think I said it before, I like to compete. I welcome the competition,” said Lopez through interpreter Billy Russo. “For me it’s another Spring Training. I don’t take it any other way.”

López made his Cactus League debut Saturday in Goodyear by throwing two perfect innings with one strikeout against Cleveland, showing off a shorter arm path within his delivery. In Rodón’s turn Thursday, he fanned one and allowed two hits in two scoreless.

Rodón made two starts last season for the White Sox before left shoulder soreness shut him down. He returned on Sept. 24 in a relief role, and after being non-tendered by the White Sox during the offseason, was brought back via a one-year, $3 million deal.

Thursday’s outing started with pitches of 91, 93 and 86 mph, respectively, to Tyler Naquin in the fourth, with the at-bat ending via a nice play by Rodón on a grounder back to the mound. He finished his outing by inducing a double play off the bat of Eugenio Suárez one inning later.

“I felt good. I felt strong. Just get out there and get some work,” Rodón said. “Just trying to attack the zone. It being the first time out there, trying to feel that comfort back. Use all the pitches. That’s about it.”

López yielded two runs in the first on a Tucker Barnhart double, and after a perfect second, allowed three runs in the third. Nick Castellanos and Mike Moustakas hit back-to-back homers against López, and Suárez just missed a third straight home run with a double high off of the left-field wall.

It was a start where López was trying to work on his breaking ball and where his velocity checked in primarily in the 92-93-mph range. But aside from potentially tipping pitches in that third, he was satisfied with the results.

“That’s part of what we do in Spring Training. My focus right now is not to throw hard,” López said. “It’s more to execute with all my pitches, that’s what I’ve been working on. Just trying to have a good feeling with all my pitches and also try to keep the same arm action with all my pitches. I always say that I’ve been working hard since Day 1 and they know that. 

“They know that I like to work. I like to dedicate my time to working to improve. That’s what I show them. I’ve been doing that since I came to the team.”

Manager Tony La Russa said pregame that there was no set plan to put López and Rodón in the same game in order to heighten the fifth starter competition. Although it's only natural that the two pitchers competing for the same spot would be working at this point on the same day.

Whoever does not earn the fifth starter’s spot should make the team in relief. But both Rodón and López have something to prove, with Rodón having put extra offseason work into his physical conditioning, which has been noticed by La Russa.

It’s just not something that the teammates are trying to prove to each other.

“I’ve been working with the pitching coach trying to improve on a few things,” López said. “That’s what I’m trying to do. I don’t pay much attention to the competition, because for me, that’s something natural; it comes with the game.”

“I took a little more time this year knowing I have to prove myself a little bit,” said Rodón of his physical conditioning. “It’s a little extra motivation and it’s nice to hear that some people noticed. But now it’s time to perform.”