Future closer? Confidence runs high for Lopez

February 17th, 2019
SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA - FEBRUARY 14: Workouts. (Photo by Sarah Sachs/Arizona Diamondbacks)Sarah Sachs

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It was the eighth inning of a late September game against the Dodgers when D-backs right-hander Yoan Lopez showed that not only might he have the stuff to be a future closer, but also the moxie of one as well.

With the D-backs clinging to a 3-2 lead, Dodgers shortstop led off the top of the eighth with a double. In an effort to get his teammates fired up, Machado looked toward the Dodgers dugout and gestured with his hands.

Lopez, who made his MLB debut a couple of weeks beforehand after being signed out of Cuba in January 2015, did not let the moment overwhelm him.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Instead he struck out the next three hitters -- , and -- to end the inning.

While Lopez showed his dominating stuff to get out of the inning, he demonstrated his confidence afterward as he pumped his fist and then looked toward Machado and imitated the gesture that the four-time All-Star had done after the double.

It didn't go unnoticed by Machado, who never took his eyes off Lopez as the pitcher walked back to the dugout.

"I enjoyed that Machado moment," D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. "I liked that."

The D-backs have always been enamored with Lopez's stuff -- a high 90s fastball and wipeout slider -- but his transition to professional baseball was not an easy one. After all, he was just 22 when he signed and came to the U.S.

After a rough first couple of seasons in pro ball, Lopez began to turn things around both on and off the field in 2017. Then last year after pitching well at Double-A Jackson he was rewarded with his first trip to the big leagues.

Lovullo expects D-backs to vie for playoff spot

Lovullo had hoped to get Lopez a "soft landing" into his first game, but wound up having to use him in the ninth inning of a Sept. 9 game against the Braves.

With Arizona trailing 6-4, Lopez allowed a home run on the second pitch he threw, then gave up a triple before the next batter homered, and Lovullo took him out.

A debut like that can often demoralize a young pitcher, but Lopez would go on to throw nine more innings over nine appearances in September. He did not allow another run while while striking out 11 and allowing one walk.

"As I look back on the full body of work, I watched a young pitcher come in here with a lot of confidence, really get banged around extremely hard in his first outing, and the last time he threw for us I felt like he was overmatching big league hitters," Lovullo said.

While the closer competition will likely come down to and , it would surprise no one if Lopez pitches in high-leverage situations for the D-backs this year and is their closer at some point in the future.

"I've only caught him a few innings, but his stuff is nasty," catcher said. "Fastball explodes out of his hand, he's got a wipe-out slider and I think he's trying a changeup."

For now, though, Lopez will have to focus on making the Opening Day roster. There's a lot of competition for the final two bullpen spots, which is the way Lovullo wants it.

"I don't want him to think anything is going to be handed to him," he said. "He's going to have to go out and earn everything that he will get this year. But I think last year's final outings were a tremendous building block for what he could become for us."