Shortly after the Atlanta Braves announced the singing of righty Reynaldo Lopez, Justin Toscano reported that the club asked him to work out as if he were preparing to pitch out of the rotation,
While Lopez pitched effectively as a reliever over the last two seasons, he came up as a starter. Lopez hasn’t had a serious arm injury, and every team needs starters, so why was Lopez moved to the pen?
Reynaldo Lopez the starter
Lopez signed with the Nationals as an amateur international free agent in 2012 and made his Major League debut in July 2016. In December, Washington traded Lopez, Lucas Giolito, and Dane Dunning to the White Sox for Adam Eaton.
Over the next three seasons, Lopez was a top 100 prospect in baseball. Pitching for the Sox, he threw 420 1/3 innings in 73 starts, striking out 350 and walking 154 while pitching to a 4.65 ERA, 95 ERA+, 1.385 WHIP.
He was never a strike-out pitcher (7.5 K/9), always walked too many batters (2.3 K/BB), and gave up 67 homers in 73 games. The rabbit-ball season of 2019 was particularly bad for Lopez as he led MLB in earned runs allowed.
In 2019, Atlanta Braves fans thought Julio Teheran gave up too many homers. He finished tied for 36th in MLB with 1.1 HR/9. Lopez finished with 1.7 HR/9, putting him in a tied for third highest in MLB.
Moving to the Pen
I don’t hold the 2020 fiasco against anyone, but Lopez had a worse-than-usual season, and on March 22, 2021, the White Sox optioned him to the alternate training site because he had a vision problem that required surgery.
When the White Sox announced the surgery, they said he would serve as rotation depth when he returned, but CBS Sports opined that the press release was, at best, diplomatic.
"…but his struggles in recent seasons mean the team would likely prefer to not have to look his way."- CBS Sports
Lopez returned on July 17. He did make nine spot-starts, throwing 37+ innings, striking out 33, and walking 17 while pitching to a 4.10 ERA and 1.125 WHIP. His last appearance as a traditional starter for the Sox came on September 28.
However, he was a much better pitcher out of the pen, where he threw 20 1/3 innings in 20 relief appearances, striking out 22 (30.1%) and walking 3 (4.1%) while pitching to a 2.21 ERA, 0.639 WHIP.