Right-handers Reynaldo Lopez, Dylan Cease keys to White Sox’ rotation

“Both of those guys are in the best position I’ve seen them in,” pitching coach Don Cooper said.

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Dylan Cease (left) and Reynaldo Lopez have looked sharp this spring, pitching coach Don Cooper said.

Dylan Cease (left) and Reynaldo Lopez have looked sharp this spring, pitching coach Don Cooper said.

John Antonoff/For the Sun-Times

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Count White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper among those more than ready to move past the rebuild.

After his starting rotation was beefed up by the signings of free-agent left-handers Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez during the offseason, Cooper said he is ready to win.

‘‘The playing field has been leveled,’’ Cooper said, citing the acquisitions of Keuchel, Gonzalez and right-handed reliever Steve Cishek to go with catcher Yasmani Grandal and designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion on the offensive side. ‘‘It hasn’t been level for a long while. So, yeah, I’m looking forward to this season. We’ve got a chance to win more ballgames, and I’m hoping the ball bounces our way and somehow we’re winning the [American League Central] division.’’

The Sox’ lineup should slug and score enough runs to make that possible. The pitching staff is a bigger question mark, with two-fifths of the rotation — right-handers Reynaldo Lopez and Dylan Cease — coming off unsatisfactory seasons. Lopez, 26, saw his ERA increase from 3.91 in 2018 to 5.38 in 2019. Cease, 24, posted a 5.79 ERA after being promoted to the majors in July.

Lopez and Cease, who will follow probable Opening Day starter Lucas Giolito and 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner Keuchel in the rotation, are the keys.

‘‘Lopez has to be more consistent,’’ Cooper said.

So does Cease, who must have better command of his quality four-pitch mix to avoid throwing 100 pitches in five innings.

Cooper said he likes what he has seen from both so far this spring.

‘‘I’m already seeing [more consistency] from Lopez,’’ he said. ‘‘And Cease is on the glove a lot more. He’s throwing more strikes. Both of those guys are in the best position I’ve seen them in.’’

They have done most of their work in bullpen sessions and live batting practice, although Cease pitched two scoreless innings in a Cactus League game against the Reds. Lopez had his scheduled start in the spring opener rained out. Keuchel made his first start Monday, Lopez will start Tuesday and Cease will go Wednesday as they get rolling toward Opening Day on March 26.

Cease has made ‘‘a huge improvement on the things we were asking him to do with his delivery, his grip, his axis’’ and curtailing the cut on his fastball, Cooper said.

‘‘Those things are much, much better,’’ Cooper said. ‘‘Lopez’s problem last year was lack of command of his fastball. Like if he wanted a fastball in, it slid back out over [the plate], and they got him. He made too many mistakes with his fastball.’’

Cooper said Lopez’s command has been sharper so far.

‘‘I see him throwing his slider harder,’’ Cooper said. ‘‘I see the changeup good — down, getting more swings and misses. He’s behind the ball, his axis is better and therefore his command has been a little bit better. So I like where he’s at.’’

Cease looks around and sees a rotation that could impress. But he knows looks only go so far.

‘‘So far, everyone has looked good,’’ Cease said. ‘‘Whether it translates, you can’t predict it.’’

The adjustments he has made, however, have him feeling ‘‘as confident as a pitcher as I’ve felt in a long time.’’

‘‘I feel great,’’ Cease said. ‘‘I definitely have better command with my fastball right now. It’s not cutting [out of the strike zone]; it’s staying true now. And I have a better feel.’’

Physically, he said everything ‘‘feels fantastic. I’m feeling optimistic.’’

And don’t forget, Cooper said, that reinforcements will be coming soon.

‘‘I don’t know exactly when, but it will be coming,’’ Cooper said. ‘‘Michael Kopech will be in Chicago, and Carlos Rodon will be in Chicago.’’

Those two will be recovered from Tommy John surgeries and ready to pitch, Kopech perhaps by May and Rodon maybe in July. Where they will fit in and who might get pushed out will play itself out.

What’s more, prospects Dane Dunning, Jimmy Lambert and Ryan Burr ‘‘are right behind them,’’ Cooper said. ‘‘So it’s forming.’’

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