Exit Interviews: Andre Rienzo
By James Fegan
He would fit in nicely with the Red Sox, but would be handsomer on the Yankees. // Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
These “exit interviews” will be going over the entire 40-man roster and looking to see how each player does or does not fit into the White Sox future.
The term “exit interview” is usually used when an employee is leaving the company. I took that into consideration…and kept it.
Andre Rienzo – Fun and fresh, but scattershot right-handed pitching prospect with an undetermined destiny.
Age by 2014 Opening Day: 25
Contract: Less than a year of service time. He’ll make the league minimum and probably like it. I mean, it’s $500K, for goodness sake. He was recently making a lot less.
Relevant stats: MLB: 10 games (all starts), 56 IP, 4.82 ERA, 55 H, 11 HR, 38 K, 28 BB, 1.36 K/BB, 89 ERA+.
AAA: 20 games (all starts), 113 IP, 4.06 ERA, 105 H, 7 HR, 113 K, 46 BB, 2.46 K/BB.
Interpretation: When leaping back and forth between disastrous and flashes of brilliance, these kind of mediocre numbers are what result.
Emblematic split: Through his first two starts, opponents hit .208/.296/.250 against Rienzo with no home runs, and he maintained a 3.46 ERA. His last eight starts, he allowed hitters a .266/.356/.509, and he gave up 11 home runs with a 5.23 ERA over 43 innings.
Pre-season expectations: Rienzo had lost much of 2012 to a PED suspension, so while he sparkled in Double-A, the persistence of his control issues and a rough Spring Training made it hard to make big plans to see him in the majors on something more than a cameo basis.
Quote of the year: “I hope the Brazil is proud of me. I’m proud of Gomes,” Rienzo said. “I hope if I have a chance next time to do better and help the team. I just want to open doors for guys coming. The talent is there, but I try to open doors. It’s good.”
The Brazil. Possibly not the best transcription.
Andre’s story: Rienzo started the year a mess. Through his first month in Triple-A Charlotte, he had an 8.63 ERA through seven starts, and was soaked in the rippling waves of walks and home runs that would foreshadow his rocky end of the year in Chicago. The awful beginning was capped off by a May 9 start in Columbus where Rienzo faced just eight batters, retiring one, and allowing the other seven to score.
Ten weeks later, Rienzo was in the majors. After allowing two home runs in that third of an inning in Columbus, he allowed that same number over the next 82.1 innings in Charlotte. Big, broad strokes of brilliance marked his last week in minors, and he had the wherewithal to line up his odd, rained-out 7.1-inning no-hitter with Jake Peavy being traded, earning the call-up.
By the time Rienzo was promoted, he was already floating around his career-high for innings thrown in a season, not factoring in his work in the World Baseball Classic. Despite that, his first couple of starts brought renewed vigor to the doomed club. He seemed capable of subverting the season-long troubles against the Indians when he glided through four shutout innings in his debut. The spirit of 2013 enveloped him in a nightmare three-run fifth full of shaky defense and saw him accidentally spiked while covering first base in an eerily similar manner to Tim Hudson. He somehow recovered/was allowed to recover and added two more shutout innings that saw some traces of his best overhand curve.
He followed it up with six emotionally-charged shutout innings in Detroit before being given the rope to hang himself and blow a 2-0 lead when his control start unraveling in the seventh. Appropriately, the Sox lost both these games, since their offense regularly demanded that starters deliver shutouts directly over to Addison Reed, and Rienzo was carefully processing through baby steps. He wouldn’t record his first win until his fifth start, and was shelled over his final five outings (eight home runs over 25.2 innings, more earned runs than strikeouts), though he did end the season on a positive note.
Rienzo walked plenty of folks too, but the home runs might actually explain why these outings weren’t completely disheartening to watch. Rienzo would mow through some hitters, then lose placement on his fastball, walk a guy, the overcompensate and groove a gopherball to the next batter while trying to get ahead. It wasn’t a fundamental inability to fool anyone, just lapses. The final numbers suggest mediocrity.
Assessment: There are two reasons Rienzo’s curveball is such a knee-buckler, and one of them isn’t good. He can’t throw it for a strike very consistently, so when he paints the corner with it, the batters who watch it pass just suffer poor results on a sound strategy. It exists as a show-me pitch not because it doesn’t have decent snap to it, but because he has yet to prove he can land it.
When he dumps a couple curves in the dirt, Rienzo’s options starting running thin quickly. His cutter helps him generate some weak contact, but sitting at 90 mph from the right-hand side doesn’t allow him to get away with his command mistakes. At the moment, he’s not a control-guy, not quite a groundball guy (he’s closest to showing potential there) and not a guy who can rear back and naturally get swings-and-misses because his stuff is so lively.
He’s 25, but is still somewhat raw developmentally due to missed time. It’s easy to say this about any pitcher (how great of a closer would Chris Sale be? Pretty great!) but Rienzo is intriguing to think about in the bullpen. He could use the extra ticks on his fastball, and his emotional, adrenaline-infused style would likely respond well to the short bursts of relief work. However, if the White Sox spend the offseason dealing from starter depth, they might need someone other than Dylan Axelrod to eat up starts.
Andre Rienzo is not Dylan Axelrod.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan