Saturday, July 13

Why Do Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez Keep Playing for the Same Team?

They are from different parts of the world. They have different backgrounds and fill different roles on a pitching staff. They are both 29 and have pitched for four different major league organizations. Each has been traded twice and waived once.

Against all odds, and across many miles, the right-handed pitchers Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo López keep finding each other.

In fact, in their professional careers, they have almost never been apart.

“I thought it was kind of a peculiar stat,” said Cleveland’s Terry Francona, the latest manager to oversee a pitching staff that includes Giolito, a starter, and López, a reliever.

Peculiar is one word for an odyssey that became even odder as the pair bounced to three different teams this summer.

“Very unique, that’s for sure,” Giolito said. “I don’t know how often that’s ever happened in this game. But it’s been a blessing. Because I feel like, despite how crazy it’s been the last couple of months, I’ve had a very good friend I’ve been able to kind of go on the journey with, you know? It’s not like I’ve been alone anywhere. I mean, we’ve been together since we were 18 years old.”

The pitchers began their professional careers with the Washington Nationals organization in 2012, with Giolito arriving as a first-round draft pick and López as an international free agent.

In December 2016, the Nationals shipped them to the Chicago White Sox in a trade for outfielder Adam Eaton.

This July, the White Sox dealt them to the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for two minor league prospects.

A month later, a trend emerged with multiple teams attempting to cut ties with prominent players despite the fact that there would be no return beyond salary relief — a reaction to a rule change in recent years in which August trades are no longer possible. The Yankees waived outfielder Harrison Bader, who ended up in Cincinnati, while the Mets waived pitcher Carlos Carrasco and the White Sox waived pitcher Mike Clevinger, though neither was claimed.

The Angels, who had skidded out of postseason contention after a series of deadline trades designed to please Shohei Ohtani, were far more extreme. The team waived six players, including Giolito and López, seemingly splitting up the longtime teammates.

And then Cleveland claimed both pitchers.

“We laugh about it all the time,” Giolito said. “We’re represented by the same agency, too. So we’ll joke around, like: ‘Hey, we’re both free agents this year. Maybe it will be another package deal.’”

When they were waived, López did stop to consider if their time together had finally come to an end.

“I felt like destiny has us together, one way or the other,” López said through his interpreter, Agustin Rivero, in the Cleveland clubhouse last weekend. “But to be honest, I thought that was at risk. The last time we were both put on waivers, I felt, OK, this is going to be over now.”

Not so much. Good thing they like each other.

“The funny thing is when we were in Chicago this summer, I was the first one to get pulled into the office and told I was traded,” López said. “And so I went out and was saying goodbye to everybody, and he just came up to me and said: ‘Guess what? I also got traded to Anaheim.’”

Giolito is a Southern California native who pitched at Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles. There, he was a part of an eye-popping high school rotation that also included the future big leaguers Max Fried and Jack Flaherty.

López is from the Dominican Republic and came from a family with so little money that, unbeknown to his grandmother at the time, his grandfather sold a cow to earn the money to buy López his first glove. Money from the sale also went to baseball shoes, a bat and two baseballs. López was a catcher as a child, but one day his team’s pitcher failed to show up for a game. He volunteered to pitch and never looked back.

The longtime teammates first met on the windswept fields of Washington’s old spring training complex in Viera, Fla., shortly after they signed. They quickly became throwing partners. Of course.

“The complex itself, I just remember it was this big block building, no windows,” Giolito said. “We’d go out into that Florida grass shagging fly balls in batting practice and everyone’s legs were sore all the time. It was so mushy. It was a grind back then. But that’s part of it.”

They stayed at a La Quinta Inn just off Interstate 95 with the other prospects, big eyes and bigger dreams.

They were first teammates at Class A Hagerstown in 2014. When spring camp broke in 2015, the Nationals kept both players at extended spring training in Florida to regulate their workload. Then, early that May, each was assigned to the Nationals’ high-A Potomac affiliate in Virginia.

So they hopped in Giolito’s white 2012 Chevy Tahoe and hit the road, driving north on I-95 for 12 hours over two days.

“He had the option to fly, but he chose to come with me,” Giolito remembered.

Along the way, Giolito shared his passion for Drake and other American rappers. López returned the favor by introducing Giolito to some of his favorite Latin rappers, such as Lápiz Conciente. But that wasn’t what made their trip so memorable.

“I got food poisoning,” Giolito said. “I was so sick. I was like: ‘Lopey, I’m struggling over here, man. Do you think you could get behind the wheel and shave off some of my drive time?’ He said, ‘Oh, man, I wish I could, but I don’t have my license.’”

Giolito paused, grinned and continued: “Sure enough, years later, I found out he just wanted to be a passenger princess. He just wanted to hang out the whole time.”

López laughed at Giolito’s telling of the story, particularly the “passenger princess” part. The truth, the reliever said, is that he did not have a driver’s license in the United States at the time, only one from the Dominican Republic.

“I was genuinely concerned that I didn’t have it,” López said.

Giolito and López don’t do everything — or even most things — together.

“It’s not like they’re joined at the hip,” Angels outfielder Mickey Moniak said.

Yet “they can’t escape each other,” Angels starter Patrick Sandoval noted, smiling.

At the very least, they have come to know and appreciate each other over time the way few teammates do.

“He’s such a hard worker,” said Giolito, who, at 7-13 with a 4.89 E.R.A., has had a difficult summer. “He has a lot of passion for the game. Both of us have experienced our fair share of struggles. One thing that stands out about him, to me, is how hard he’s worked to overcome those struggles. He’s been a starter, he’s been a reliever, he’s been thrust over the years into different roles.”

López, who started 33 games for the White Sox as recently as 2019 before becoming a full-time reliever in 2021, likes that Giolito “resembles a lot of things that I am.” He continued: “I’m very quiet, very reserved, and I like to keep it that way. He’s very calm. We’re both gamers. We haven’t played against each other, but we share that.”

López and his wife, Jhilaris, have two children. Giolito has none.

“I think he’s got a cat and a dog,” López said.

When Giolito got married in 2018, but left López off the guest list, the reliever teased the groom that he was going to block Giolito’s number on his phone. But when Giolito, who is now going through a divorce, was in the Dominican Republic cleaning up beaches in July, López reached out.

“What I wanted to do was to invite him over to my hometown,” López said. “But it was, like, two and a half hours to my house from the area he was in.”

Giolito’s project was in Santo Domingo; López and his family were at home in San Pedro de Macorís. But they texted about Giolito’s experiences in the country, and Giolito said he hoped to visit López’s hometown the next time he is there — whether or not the pitchers, who are eligible for free agency this winter, are still teammates.

“Being able to become closer with a guy from a whole other country with a whole different background and being able to talk to him about that, it’s always been special to me,” Giolito said. “That’s what I’m going to take away from this, more than the accolades or pitching stuff. That’s all fun. But it’s the relationships you build in this game that are really long-lasting.

“So being able to do that with him and go on this journey with him for all of these years has really been fantastic.”