To be the first major leaguer from a particular town must be pretty cool. Especially if it is a small, rural city, one is looked on as the local hero. Billboards are constructed proclaiming how that one neck of the woods is the hometown of someone who beat the odds and is living out a childhood dream.
To be the first pitcher and the second major leaguer from a particular country, well … that is a whole different story.
Chicago White Sox starter Andre Rienzo became the first Brazilian-born pitcher to ever make the majors when he made his debut on July 30, 2013. Because of this, the entire soccer-loving country began to focus more of their attention to America’s pastime. Along with the Cleveland Indians‘ Yan Gomes, Rienzo has been embraced by his new home country and his old.
When Rienzo made his major league debut in the middle of last season against Gomes and the Indians, an entire country tuned in to watch a sport that is sometimes forgotten down there. Baseball players in Brazil believe that Rienzo can be the poster child for Brazilians who take up the game. With his down-to-earth attitude and what one would label as “southern charm” if he was from the states, Rienzo could be the perfect person to take on the added responsibility.
The White Sox on the other hand, do not expect as much from Rienzo as his home country. With Chris Sale and Jose Quintana being the faces of the future in the rotation and John Danks being the large-contract veteran, all that is expected of Rienzo is that he can be a viable fourth or fifth starter. With Erik Johnson demoted, Felipe Paulino struggling, and Scott Carroll still an unknown, Rienzo is only expected to bring stability to the back end of the rotation.
Rienzo struggled in August and early September, after his July call-up last season. As with most rookies, Rienzo was beat up by opposing hitters after teams started to have more information on his pitching repertoire. While he was not known as an elite prospect as he progressed in the minors, many scouts labeled his cutter as a major league-ready pitch.
With a low 90s fastball and a cutter in the high 80s that featured late movement, Rienzo was able to keep hitters off balance with just those two pitches. After major league hitters began to take more pitches, forcing him to throw a larger variety of pitches, Rienzo’s struggles began to be showcased. He had to throw his curveball and changeup even though both were not even close to major league-ready.
Throughout his 10 starts, he fell behind in the count numerous times. This led his batters working the count in their favor, which allowed them to know what was coming. At the end of the season, Rienzo finished with a 4.82 ERA and a WHIP of 1.82. Based on his numbers to end last season, Rienzo should not have been one of the front-runners to be penciled in to the rotation.
On Opening Day, the starter found himself in triple-A Charlotte. After going 0-2 with a 4.85 ERA to start the season, Rienzo himself did not believe that he deserved a call-up. Due to injuries Sale and Paulino (still not sure if his DL stint was the result of an actual injury) as well as Johnson’s struggles, Rienzo finds himself making his second start of the season against the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday.
Now in his second stint in the majors, not much is expected of Rienzo. The organization will characterize his outings more so as spot starts than the continuation of a storied career in the rotation. Still, the country of Brazil cannot help but think that their homegrown major leaguer will find stability in the only franchise he has ever known.