ST. LOUIS -- Marlins right-hander Pablo López is one of the most cerebral pitchers around, so who better to provide analysis on several trends from a subpar June?
López culminated his month by allowing five runs on six hits and one walk over five innings in Monday night’s 9-0 loss to the Cardinals at Busch Stadium to open a seven-game trip.
It goes without saying that López wasn’t going to be able to sustain a 0.39 ERA that garnered him National League Pitcher of the Month for April. During that stretch, he shut out St. Louis for seven frames in Miami. The 26-year-old posted a 2.78 ERA in six May starts, but that ballooned to a 5.34 ERA in five June starts.
So, what has led to these results?
Teeing off on the cutter
Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt was the NL Player of the Month for May, and he hasn’t cooled off at the plate. He entered Monday hitting “worse” against fastballs (.327) compared to offspeed (.345) and breaking (.354) pitches. López’s cutter had gotten hit hard entering Monday (.313 BA, .688 SLG, 1 HR, 1 2B, 1 3B, 26.7% barrel rate).
After missing outside with a cutter to Goldschmidt in the first inning, López left an 86.9 mph offering at the very top of the zone for a solo homer to left.
López said he uses the cutter to expand on his glove side because his sinker would for the most part stay in the same part of the strike zone as his changeup. The cutter allows him to change looks.
“It's a tricky one because when the location or the action's there, I think it could be an action pitch, could be a putaway pitch,” López said. “The times that it's not there, it's a very hittable pitch against righties for the most part because if it's not doing what it's supposed to, it's just spinning in there like a slower fastball and sometimes it can catch too much of the plate.
“If the movement is more lateral rather than going down, then it can catch a barrel here and there. It's just having that finesse with it. You're using it but you want to use it in the right spots, you want to make sure that you're not missing over the plate. You've got to play with it and just be careful with it sometimes.”
Fewer pitches on the edge of the zone
López has seen the percentages go down by month, from 47.7% in April to 45.5% in May to 40.4% in June entering Monday.
Juan Yepez hit the first of his two homers in the fourth -- a three-run shot that made it a 4-0 ballgame. It came on a middle-middle changeup after López missed with a low four-seamer.
“My first at-bat, he got me with that changeup, and [Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol] does a great job, and he was telling me, ‘Man, you’ve got to keep this guy up in the zone,’” Yepez said. “Finally, I was able to see López’s changeup up in the zone and I was able to hit it. It was a pretty cool moment for me, but it takes a lot of focus when you are facing a pitcher as good as López.”
Monday marked the first time López surrendered multiple homers since May 24. A bigger sample size provides batters with a more in-depth scouting report, and falling behind leads to less favorable results.
“I think hitters are able to look at certain areas of the strike zone where I'll be, and if I see that they might not be swinging or reaching, then you'll find yourself as a pitcher catching more of the strike zone,” López said. “I think sometimes wanting to be too fine, too perfect, leads to getting behind in the count, which makes you throw in the strike zone. The more ahead in the count that you are, you're able to play with those edges, the more behind that you are, you don't have the luxury, and you have to just try to find the strike zone, which can be a lot of plate sometimes.”
Any lingering effects from the comebacker?
López was hit on the right wrist in Houston, but he said other than the first couple of days, there has been no issue. He doesn’t even think about it on the mound.
“We need our guys to be good at all times,” manager Don Mattingly said. “We were leaning pretty heavily on Pablo. He was rolling right there along with Sandy [Alcantara]. We've hit a little bit of a hiccup with that. The other guys have got to pick us up.”