The Minor Leagues are meant to be a learning experience, both on and off the diamond. Sometimes, the lessons learned away from the field take precedence over those gleaned between the white lines.
That was the case for Andre Rienzo. The Brazilian pitcher was suspended 50 games after testing positive for the same performance-enhancing drug found that lead to Rafael Palmeiro's suspension in 2005.
"Yes, I took some supplements in Brazil," he said. "I never took anything I didn't think I couldn't take. I'm from Brazil. They know how hard it is for a Brazilian to be here. It's stupid, but I know I'm responsible for what I put in my body. I never knew exactly what was in those.
"I learned a lot. I learned you never take anything without knowing everything that's in it. Now I need to be more responsible. I'll only take something from here and not from Brazil. I can't take anything from there. I love the game more."
The White Sox's No. 19 prospect showed his devotion to the sport Friday night when he scattered four hits and struck out seven over eight innings to lead Double-A Birmingham to a 2-0 win over Mississippi. It was his longest outing since going eight on July 19, 2008 in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League.
Rienzo allowed only one Brave to reach scoring position -- Cory Harrilchak got aboard on a fielder's choice, stole second and took third on a throwing error in the third. Despite the lengthy outing, the 6-foot-3 right-hander finished on a high note, striking out Harrilchak and Keenan Wiley to end the eighth.
Through his first two Southern League starts, Rienzo has allowed one run and seven hits through 11 1/3 innings for a 0.79 ERA. He was 3-0 with a 1.08 ERA and a Carolina League-leading 31 strikeouts in four starts for Class A Advanced Winston-Salem before the suspension.
As good as Rienzo's numbers look, there was a point after the suspension when he was worried about his future in the game.
"I lost my mind when I heard," he said. "I don't have any family up here. I have some friends here, but I don't have any family. So I just lost my mind. I lost everything. ... But the White Sox always supported me. If I didn't have them, I wouldn't know where I'd be."
Thanks to the big club, the 23-year-old knew he couldn't get down on himself for too long. He had to keep working on his plus fastball and his off-speed stuff that had given him control issues in the past. Just because he was suspended didn't mean he had to stop working.
"I was really mad the first month," Rienzo said. "But after that, I worked harder. I went back to pitching because I wanted to get better, and I'm glad that I did."
Given his age and his performance through six starts between Birmingham and Winston-Salem, Rienzo could be in line for another bump up the organizational ladder. But that's not his focus at the moment.
"I don't know, I lost enough time because of the suspension," he said. "Everyone wants to go to The Show, and it's the same with me. I just have to keep doing well here. I'm just happy to be back."
Ryan Kussmaul relieved Rienzo and struck out two in the ninth for his seventh save. Seth Loman and Erik Morrison both had two hits and scored a run for the Barons.