SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Reynaldo López can see clearly now, seeing every obstacle in his path.
At the very least, the White Sox right-hander has regained his strength on the mound shown in the 2021 season after undergoing cross-linking surgery last May on both corneas to correct a condition called keratoconus. It was a vision problem affecting López in the most rudimentary way, such as not being able to consistently see the receiver’s signs.
” It was hard. I felt confused. I was very hesitant,” López told MLB.com, through interpreter Billy Russo, in a recent interview. “I didn’t have the conviction that I usually have, and it happened a few times with [catcher Yasmani] Grandal.
“Sometimes he would call a slider and I would see a fastball. Or sometimes he would call fastball and I would throw sliders. That’s when I started to be more scared and hesitant because I didn’t want to hurt anyone. But after the surgery, the improvement was noticeable. I felt much better and didn’t have this problem. It was a big step forward. »
López, 28, came to the White Sox from the Nationals along with Lucas Giolito and Dane Dunning as part of Adam Eaton’s trade before the 2017 season. He made a very quick impact posting a 3.91 ERA on 32 starts in 2018, striking out 151 of 188 2/3 innings. But even during this successful run, López noticed the blur.
The problem worsened in 2019, and despite recording 169 strikeouts in 184 innings, his ERA rose to 5.38.
“In 2018, it happened a few times with [catcher Omar] Narváez,” López explained. “He was calling for a fastball and I was throwing sliders. He called for a slider and I threw a fastball. He asked me, ‘What’s going on?’ and I said to him, ‘I thought you called the pitch that I was throwing.’
“Then it got worse to a point where I wasn’t really throwing with confidence anymore. It was a challenge. I was trying to get through this. As you can see, the results after the surgery were much better.
White Sox head athletic trainer James Kruk credited team optometrist Dr. R. Tracy Williams with diagnosing something a little more irregular than normal vision problems with López in 20, and López was sent to a specialist. He wears glass contact lenses, which Kruk says help support the cornea and keep it in shape.
An original use of contact lenses did not pay the dividends hoped for by López.
“We haven’t seen any progress. I thought maybe it was because the contacts were a bit dirty or they were old. I just needed a bigger prescription, something like that,” López said. “But it wasn’t until last spring that I added Goodyear [Ballpark] that was a very big red flag.
“People said it was because the lights there weren’t very good. After that time they started doing more studies and that’s when I realized I needed surgery. At that time, we made the decision. »
López’s surgery took place at Rush Medical Center when he was with Triple-A Charlotte, where he pitched until his 2021 White Sox debut on July 16 at home against Houston. He finished with a 7.62 ERA in 10 starts for the Knights, but turned things around in Chicago with a 3.43 ERA in 57 2/3 innings. That ERA included five perfect innings and seven strikeouts in relief against the Cubs on Aug. 27 and stood at 1.54 through early September. He finished with a 6.35 ERA in his last six games.
Manager Tony La Russa and the White Sox intend to stretch López during spring training. The same plan is used for Vince Velasquez, who pitched two scoreless innings Sunday against the Rockies. Regardless of the starting role or long succession, and regardless of appearance-to-appearance results, López is throwing in something he’s been missing for a few seasons.
“Trust,” López said smiling in English.
“Really, it’s been super helpful and super impactful for him,” Kruk said, adding that López was in good shape with normal eye exams and adjusting his prescription. “There are things that can progress sometimes when people have [keratoconus] and don’t necessarily notice it. They just keep wearing contacts and their prescription is constantly changing. You may come to a point where it is too late to do this cross-linking.
“You can notice a change right away,” López continued. “I can see as clear as the sky. Now I use the lens and I can see everything. I can throw whatever I want.