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What some people call a gimmick just might work for the White Sox.
After Reynaldo Lopez put his team in a 5-0 hole after one inning in Seattle on Sunday, might manager Ricky Renteria follow the lead of the Tampa Bay Rays and use one of his bullpen guys to pitch the opening inning (or two) before Lopez enters the game?
This is a legitimate question since the promising righthander has been absolutely miserable in the opening frame of his 20 starts this season. After Sunday, Lopez has been tagged for 16 earned runs in those 20 innings for an ERA of 7.20. His season's ERA climbed to 4.13 Sunday. Toss out the first inning, and that number shrinks to 3.51.
Tampa manager Kevin Cash has used this strategy 27 times this season. The Rays have gone 12-15 in those games compared to 38-34 when Cash uses the traditional method. Part of his thinking is that a pitcher begins to lose his effectiveness the second and third time through the batting order. So spare his starting pitcher the task of facing the opponent's top of the order in the first inning, and increase his chances of getting guys out later in the game.
You can debate that approach, but you can't argue that Lopez has been just plain awful at the outset of a number of games he's pitched this season. Using Sunday as an example, after retiring Dee Gordon on his very first pitch, the next six hitters accounted for all five runs on two singles, two walks, a sacrifice fly and Ryon Healy's three-run bomb off the scoreboard in left field. When the carnage finally ended, Lopez had thrown a whopping 40 pitches.
Similar to other games, Lopez settled down and shut out the Mariners over the next four innings, although he got some help from some slipshod Seattle baserunning. Nevertheless, Lopez needed just 49 pitches the rest of the way to limit the Mariners, who eventually won the game 8-2.
After dropping two of three in Seattle over the weekend, the boys now are 34-64. Don't tell me there's risk involved by having Lopez enter a game in the second inning. Obviously too often something is awry when he trots out to start a game.
The good news over the three-game set was the outstanding performance of Lopez's mound-mate Dylan Covey, who pitched into the ninth inning on Saturday as the Sox shut out the Mariners 5-0.
This is why baseball can be a fascinating experience. Covey entered the game with five straight losses in which he pitched 20 innings, allowing 26 earned runs while walking 15. That's an 11.70 ERA, my friends. He was going against Seattle icon King Felix Hernandez, who admittedly is not the pitcher he was when he earned Cy Young honors in 2010 or as recently as 2015 when he won 18 games. But The King has spent his entire career as a Mariner, winning 168 games, and, after all, he was pitted against Dylan Freakin' Covey.
Covey was so dominant that Seattle's first hit didn't come until Gordon singled with one out in the bottom of the sixth. Covey came out for the ninth inning, retired the first hitter before Jean Segura singled to center - just Seattle's second and final hit - and Renteria summoned Joakim Soria to nail down the win. Leury Garcia's season-best catch to rob Mitch Haniger of a two-run homer added a little frosting to the cake.
Of course, the road trip commenced in Seattle - the Sox now open a four-game set tonight against the Angels in Anaheim before coming home to face Toronto - after the break earlier in the week for the annual All-Star Game, won by the American League, 8-6 in 10 innings.
That game featured a total of 10 home runs (five by each league), breaking the old mark of six set 47 years ago. The hitters didn't have complete dominance as there were 27 strikeouts in the game, representing 45 percent of the total of 60 outs. With nine bases on balls, slightly more than half (46) of the 90 plate appearances were decided solely between the pitcher, catcher and batter with absolutely no involvement from the other position players.
If you require any additional illustration of what the game has become, look no further than that.
I was thinking about Eddie Feigner and The King and His Court. From the 1940s until he had a stroke in 2000, Feigner toured every nook and cranny of the country playing thousands of softball exhibitions where he pitched to his catcher and employed only a shortstop and first baseman in case anyone hit the ball. Feigner's fastball was clocked at more than 100 mph from the mound just 45 feet from the batter. He had a rise ball, in and out balls, and he could change speeds if he felt like it. In one exhibition against major leaguers, he struck out Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Brooks Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Maury Wills and Harmon Killebrew.
Feigner was superhuman, but today's major leaguers strike out more than 22 percent of the time. By adding in walks, hit batters and home runs, you have almost 35 percent of plate appearances in which the defense is called upon to do virtually nothing.
The so-called Home Run Derby, or Glorified Batting Practice, plays in front of a full house the night before the All-Star Game and receives just as much hype as the game itself. And the fans love it. At least most of them do.
Why not have a contest of defensive skills? See which hitters are most accurate hitting behind the runner.
Or how about a contest to see which outfielder has the strongest and truest throwing arm?
Apparently it is far more intriguing, exciting, and - lest we forget - profitable to see players demolish a 60-mph lob into the far environs of a stadium. You'd have thought Bryce Harper had won the World Series instead of being crowned the best batting practice hitter of the year. The same Harper who's hitting .218 with some decent power numbers similar to what Adam Dunn did on the South Side for a few seasons. Please excuse me if I'm underwhelmed.
The game also is played on a Tuesday night while every other major sport has an All-Star weekend. According to Nielsen, half of baseball's fans are 55 and older, so the commissioner's office is doing things like limiting mound visits and eliminating pitches for intentional walks to shorten the games to appeal more favorably to younger fans. So consider that Tuesday's first pitch came at 8 p.m. on the East Coast, and the outcome wasn't decided until 11:30 when lots of kids are asleep.
No doubt because the owners don't want to give up weekend dates in July, you'll never see a change in scheduling for the All-Star Game. And you'll rarely see a 9-year-old in the eastern half of the country watching the best players on the planet striking out, walking and homering in the late innings of the Mid-Summer Classic.
Besides, they're still exhausted from the excitement of watching the World Cup the previous Sunday.
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