Reynaldo Lopez was excellent Monday night.
He's been excellent before. In all likelihood, he'll be excellent again. But the challenge for him and fellow young starting pitcher Lucas Giolito isn't to be excellent once, to be excellent every now and then. It's to be excellent most of the time. All of the time.
And Lopez feels that in this critical learning season, as the White Sox inch closer to the transition from rebuilding to contending, that he's close to finding the consistency that's proved so elusive for so many White Sox players in recent years.
"I am very close. I think I am very close because I'm working hard to be consistent," Lopez said through team interpreter Billy Russo. "I think that's something that I can do on a consistent basis. I truly believe that I'm very, very close to getting to that consistency level."
Lopez dominated the visiting Cleveland Indians in Monday night's win. He gave up a first-inning home run to Francisco Lindor, but that was it. He ended with just one earned run allowed on two hits and two walks. He struck out six in 7.2 innings. A terrific evening.
Of course, we knew Lopez was capable of this. He was the White Sox best starting pitcher last season, finishing his 2018 campaign with an ERA under 4.00 thanks to a spectacular final month in which he posted a 1.16 ERA over his final six starts. And though he got off to a bumpy start in 2019, he's turned in some great performances of late. He struck out 14 batters against the Detroit Tigers on April 28. He limited this same Cleveland lineup - one of baseball's worst offensive teams, by the way - to just three runs in a quality start last week. But, again, that consistency is still out there waiting for him; he's just two starts removed from giving up six runs in five innings to the Boston Red Sox.
So where did Monday's performance rank? For Lopez, who struck out 14 batters in a game, remember, this one was the best yet.
"I've had good outings but today's was probably the best of the season," Lopez said. "All my pitches were sharp, I was using a very good arm angle, I was throwing strikes. I was using my legs much better today, too. All those factors helped me have a good outing.
"Yes I think (this was better than the 14-strikeout game). Because I felt good, I felt much better. I was commanding all my pitches. It's not like the results from that 14-strikeout outing were bad, I just felt better today overall. With the command of all my pitches and how I felt physically. This was the best."
As Lopez starts piling up more starts like this - and know that he's not there yet, not with a season ERA that's still at 5.58 - it's a sign of the kind of dominant pitcher he has the potential to be.
There are a lot of starting-pitching question marks for the White Sox right now. Will Lopez and Giolito be able to find consistency? How will Michael Kopech, Dane Dunning and now Carlos Rodon come out the other ends of their recoveries from Tommy John surgery? Will Alec Hansen make it back to the rotation? When will Dylan Cease make his major league debut?
Lopez being able to provide an answer to one of those would be huge for a team still waiting to see what their rotation of the future will look like.
There's a lot of baseball left to be played before the next contending White Sox team takes the field. There are a lot of learning moments still to come for Lopez. But steps like these give the White Sox and their fans a glimpse of what the future might hold. And Lopez feels he's close to turning that future into his present.
"He's pretty good," manager Rick Renteria said. "He's got good stuff, and when he's commanding it he can dominate a ballgame. And I thought today he did."