First-year Chicago White Sox manager Tony La Russa is proving you can go home again — especially when you’re bringing a talented baseball team with you.
His first-place club wraps up its three-game series with the fellow American League division-leading Tampa Bay Rays in Sunday’s matinee in St. Petersburg, Fla.
A native of baseball-laden Tampa — which sent the likes of Gary Sheffield, Lou Piniella, Dwight Gooden and Fred McGriff to the majors — La Russa is enjoying his time at the helm on the South Side.
“It’s just a different kind of fun,” La Russa, 76, told the Tampa Bay Times. “The difference here is that it was unexpected. And I know that the front office took a lot of heat making this choice (to hire me).
“Nobody walks into a team like this. Everything you see, it was here before I got here. We’ve got to get to the finish line or otherwise it’s a really crappy story, so we keep pushing.”
Despite a small sample size in 2021, Chicago right-hander Reynaldo Lopez (2-0, 1.08 ERA) is posting great numbers and gets the call for his fourth start and 12th appearance.
In 25 innings, the Dominican hurler has allowed just 11 hits and seven walks while striking out 26. His WHIP is a sterling 0.72.
But over three career starts against the Rays, Lopez holds a 1-2 mark with a 6.75 ERA. They have hit .288 with four homers in 17 1/3 innings against him.
On Saturday in front of their largest crowd in 2021 — 22,275 — the Rays knotted the series 1-1 with an 8-4 win, thrashing Chicago starter Dallas Keuchel for four runs in the first two innings and getting a quality start of their own from struggling righty Luis Patino.
Also a native of Tampa, Rays manager Kevin Cash has tried a number of hitters at leadoff in his batting order, but at least against right-handed pitching, he may have found his hottest bat to slot into the top position.
After a brutal start this season, Brandon Lowe has been sizzling since August started.
The lefty-hitting Lowe was below the Mendoza Line — hitting only .198 — as late in the season as June 22 but has raised his average 39 points since that 0-for-5 effort against the Boston Red Sox.
Lowe, 27, has set a career-high with 29 homers — popping 15 of them in the 39 times he has been at the very top of the order.
He hit a two-run double — he had two of the Rays’ six extra-base hits — in a three-run first inning Saturday.
Cash said Lowe persevered through his travails and that the staff never doubted him.
“He stayed at it through the tough stretches early on, but I think we were all very confident — I know he was — that he was going to find a way to get out of it,” Cash said. “He’s certainly done that and then some. He’s a special hitter.”
Placed on the injured list April 10 with right lateral forearm stiffness by the Rays, Chris Archer (0-1, 6.23) will make his second start and third outing this season.
In nine career appearances (eight starts), Archer is 4-2 with a 4.34 ERA against the White Sox, who sat out All-Star shortstop Tim Anderson and red-hot center fielder Luis Robert on Saturday.
–Field Level Media