WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- In the clubhouse and on the mound, Pablo Lopez is making a strong first impression. The right-handed pitching prospect, who celebrated his 22nd birthday on Wednesday, turned heads with his two scoreless innings and three strikeouts in the Marlins' 7-6 win over the Astros at
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- In the clubhouse and on the mound, Pablo Lopez is making a strong first impression. The right-handed pitching prospect, who celebrated his 22nd birthday on Wednesday, turned heads with his two scoreless innings and three strikeouts in the Marlins' 7-6 win over the Astros at FIT TEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.
Ranked by MLB Pipeline as Miami's No. 24 prospect, Lopez was on point with a fastball that topped at 96 mph, and he showed promise and poise against many regulars in the defending World Series champions' lineup.
"It was real exciting, once I got to the mound, and realizing, 'I'm facing these guys,'" Lopez said.
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A native of Venezuela, Lopez was a little bit in awe facing Jose Altuve and Marwin Gonzalez.
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"It was really fun, getting to face those batters, that lineup, countrymen like Altuve and Marwin Gonzalez," Lopez said. "I've never met them personally."
Lopez dropped a curveball for a strike to Altuve in the third inning, and followed that up by using another curveball to get the 2017 American League Most Valuable Player Award winner to tap into a double play.
Acquired from the Mariners last July in the David Phelps trade, Lopez finished up at Class A Advanced Jupiter in 2017, posting a 2.18 ERA in 45 1/3 innings.
"When we talked in the winter, our scouts were really happy about him," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. "We felt like he had a good mentality, a smart kid. He knew what he wanted to do. He's been impressive in camp, honestly. The ball jumps out of his hand. He's got movement to both sides of the plate. I think the development of his breaking ball is going to be a big factor for him to continue to develop that. He's a guy we like."
Marlins shortstop Miguel Rojas, also from Venezuela, has heard the buzz surrounding Lopez in camp, but he hadn't seen him pitch until Wednesday.
"I'm pretty impressed with his personality, more than anything," Rojas said. "I feel this is a kid that's surprised me, because he reminds me a lot of myself, begging for an opportunity to play in the big leagues. It looks like he's doing everything right.
"At team meetings, every time, he's sitting up front, paying attention. Just how he carries himself in the clubhouse. He doesn't say much, but he is paying attention to everything. His personality is really good."
Lopez has thrown 4 1/3 innings of scoreless relief in Grapefruit League action, with eight strikeouts and one walk.
"His stuff was really good today," Rojas said. "He had command of his fastball. He had all the pitches to get the hitters out."
Out of options, Justin Nicolino knows what he is up against. He has to make the Opening Day roster, or else his tenure with the Marlins could be coming to an end.
The left-hander is in the mix for one of three open rotation spots, plus he could also be a relief option. On Wednesday, he started and threw two innings, giving up a two-run homer to Altuve on a 3-0 pitch. Nicolino also struck out three -- Gonzalez, Max Stassi and George Springer.
"For me, I'm in a situation of whatever happens, happens," Nicolino said. "All I can do is go out and do my job, whatever job that is, whatever is asked of me. That's been my mentality since I showed up."
Isan Diaz, ranked by MLB Pipeline as Miami's No. 8 prospect, was shaken up in the seventh inning, colliding with right fielder Isaac Galloway. Diaz limped off the field with a bruised left knee. He will be further evaluated on Thursday.
Right-hander Brett Graves (left oblique strain) and right-hander Brian Ellington (right biceps tendinitis) remain on no-throw status for at least a few more days.
The Marlins return to Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium on Thursday to face the Cardinals at 1:05 p.m. ET, live in an exclusive webcast on marlins.com. Miami is the visiting club. Jose Urena will start, and Caleb Smith will also pitch multiple innings. Brad Ziegler and Junichi Tazawa will make their first Grapefruit League appearances. J.T. Realmuto, Derek Dietrich and Cameron Maybin are among the position players slated to start.
Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.