So far, Reynaldo Lopez delivering on promise to be a different pitcher in second half

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After finishing the first half of the season with an ERA north of 6.00, Reynaldo Lopez promised that we would "see a different pitcher going forward for the second half of the season."

So far, he's delivered on that promise.

It's only been three starts, but Lopez looks completely different from the pitcher he was just a few weeks ago, when the Detroit Tigers tagged him for seven runs in 5.1 innings in his final start of the first half. He walked off the mound the owner of a 6.34 ERA that ranked as one of the highest among baseball's qualified starting pitchers. He was not pitching anywhere close to how he was at the end of the 2018 season, when he was the best starter the White Sox had.

But three starts into the second half, Lopez has once more looked capable of being the best on a staff.

Wednesday night, he was the hard-luck loser after dueling with Miami Marlins hurler Zac Gallen. Both pitchers tossed seven shutout innings. Lopez went out for the eighth and gave up a two-run homer, the only runs scored in the game. But don't let that one pitch that ended up in the left-field seats fool you. Lopez was excellent on Wednesday, surrendering just two runs on four hits and a walk in his eight innings. His ERA in three second-half starts is 1.71. He struck out 10 batters Wednesday, bringing his second-half K total to 25 in 21 innings.

"I think you clearly see trust and confidence again in his stuff, conviction behind everything he's doing," manager Rick ​Renteria said after Wednesday's game. "He's attacking, I mean he's just getting after it. Staying down when he needs to, elevating. Using all his pitches very well, his secondary pitches. I think the confidence level, his desire — he's kind of willing himself back into who he was before. Hopefully that's a good thing and it's a lesson learned that he can continue to build on.

"We've got a lot of season left and quite a few starts for him left, and hopefully that's something that we'll start to see."

Not long ago, fans were wondering why the White Sox didn't send Lopez down to Triple-A or trot him out to the bullpen to allow him to fix what was wrong. General manager Rick Hahn was asked about it, and though he said there were no plans to take Lopez out of the big league rotation, he added: "I wouldn’t go to so far as to say anyone has a scholarship indefinitely up here."

Well, Lopez has quieted those calls for now, showing that perhaps a simple reset during the All-Star break was all that was needed.

"The break gave me the right amount of time just to put my head in the right place, put my mind in the right place and keep the focus on the things I needed to do, especially during the game," Lopez said Wednesday through team interpreter Billy Russo. "I've been doing it the last three outings. That's the reason. My mind is in a better place.

"The difference has been just to keep the focus pitch by pitch, try to execute every pitch. Have the confidence and the right mindset in every pitch and just go pitch by pitch. That has been the big key for me today and the last three outings, just to have the right focus throughout the whole game and especially in every situation and in every pitch. That's the only way you can control to execute your pitch the way you want it to be executed."

As for where this sudden transformation came from, Renteria said that Lopez might have found some inspiration in his teammates.

"You know who's pushing him is the rest of the guys," Renteria said. "He's starting to see (what they're doing), and he doesn't want to fall behind now. I think that competition breeds people trying to do better. That should be something that they have from within, but it's nice to have him now trying to keep up with everybody else right now and hopefully it continues."

Lopez agreed. Though he was short on specifics — has he been inspired by Lucas Giolito's incredible season? or the recent arrival of Dylan Cease? or even Ivan Nova's complete-game effort on Monday night? — he was incredibly complimentary of his teammates and the effects they've had on him.

"When you see the other guys doing their jobs, having success and working hard, that's something that motivates you to do your job, too, to do better, to try to do your best every time you have the chance to do it," he said through Russo. "That's good because you get fuel from them and I've been using it to. I've seen all the work that all the guys, not just the young guys, all the guys have done during the season and I just want to do that. I want them to feel like I feel when I saw them doing their job and having success."

Lopez did get into specifics when asked about the influence of Nova and James McCann, two veterans who work with him on a daily basis.

"They have helped me a lot," he said through Russo. 'Especially during the games, if something goes wrong, Ivan is in dugout telling me, 'Hey, keep doing your job. Keep doing your thing. Keep believing in your stuff.' James, he has helped me a lot, too, giving me advice. He likes to watch a lot of video, and when he sees something that I'm doing wrong, something that he thinks I can do to improve, he lets me know right away. I'm very thankful with those two guys because they have helped me a lot."

It will take more than three starts, obviously, to determine whether Lopez has shaken off his first-half doldrums and returned to the form he showed to close out the 2018 campaign. But things have gone mighty well since the All-Star break. If they keep going well, the White Sox will feel a lot better about their rotation heading into a 2020 season that could see them begin their transition from rebuilding mode to contending mode.

Lopez has flashed brilliance. Now it's about doing it consistently. He's done it over the last three starts.

"Not like it's been the last three starts, not even close," Renteria said, comparing Lopez's recent work to those flashes from earlier in the season. "I think he's had spurts where the numbers say that he gave us a quality start, six innings, three runs, but not like this.

"This is elite."

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