López notches K milestone vs. former team

Righty becomes 21st Venezuelan-born pitcher to reach 500-strikeout mark

April 5th, 2023

MIAMI -- felt right at home on Wednesday afternoon, and for good reason. The 27-year-old right-hander made his 51st career start at loanDepot park, just his second start fronting the Twins’ rotation.

Facing his former team, López struck out eight and allowed just one run on three hits over seven innings.

But it was after López exited that Miami tallied four runs in the eighth inning on Bryan De La Cruz’s two-out RBI single and Jorge Soler’s three-run home run in the Marlins’ 5-2 win.

Though Wednesday’s series finale didn’t end up going the Twins’ way, López built upon his impressive Opening Day win at Kansas City.

“Pablo López, putting us in that spot really is the highlight of the day for us,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “It’s tough to have a highlight when you lose, but he threw the ball really well. It was great to see him go out and do that again for us, pitching seven really strong innings.”

With his third strikeout of the afternoon, a called K on Jesús Sánchez in the fifth inning, López topped the 500 mark in his career. His final strikeout marked his 505th, becoming the 21st Venezuelan-born pitcher to reach the 500-K milestone.

“A lot of emotions,” López said. “Obviously the last three days, staying at my house but knowing that I’m coming to the ballpark with a different uniform and all that -- mixed feelings here and there, but obviously once I put the new uniform on, I know it’s business.”

The Twins acquired López from the Marlins in January as part of the deal for Luis Arraez, who didn’t start on Wednesday but struck out in his pinch-hit appearance against Caleb Thielbar in the eighth.

The only trouble López encountered came in the first inning, when he issued a leadoff single to Jazz Chisholm Jr., who was subsequently caught stealing second. Then the big hit came, when Soler blasted a solo homer after Chisholm was tagged out, the first of his two home runs and the lone run allowed by López.

“After the first-inning home run, then it’s like, ‘OK, I’m here for business,'" López said. “'I’m here to help my team win. I’m here to try to execute pitches.’ I was able to get the pickoffs, so I like that. That was another realization, and then after the homer, it’s just like, ‘OK, I need to settle down. It’s go time.'"

López started getting those pickoffs early, as Chisholm broke for second after his first-inning single while López still had the ball.

Chisholm was thrown out and was injured as he dove headfirst into the base and the tag from Kyle Farmer. The Marlins' center fielder exited with a right shoulder stinger and De La Cruz, who came through with the go-ahead RBI single in the bottom of the eighth, took over for Miami to start the second.

“I watched the video,” Farmer said. “I wasn’t blocking the bag or anything. He slid into my leg. I didn’t block the bag at all. Nothing I did wrong there.”

The Twins dropped two of three at Miami, including being shut out by Sandy Alcantara, 1-0, on Tuesday. On Wednesday, lefty starter Jesús Luzardo was sharp over seven innings, allowing just one run on an RBI single from Trevor Larnach in the seventh.

“He’s got tremendous stuff,” Baldelli said of Luzardo. “I think he hides the ball well. He’s got a good, fast arm. These are two of the better pitchers. They’re throwing the ball well the last two days. It really puts you to a good test. Today was probably a little bit of a different day for us, too. The reality of it was, with the day game, it’s pretty unusual here with the roof open. Normally it’s closed -- really the whole game, there were some shadows.” 

López pitched for the Marlins from 2018-22. With his friendly demeanor, he became an instant favorite among fans as well as with his teammates. During phases of the team rebuilding, the right-hander compiled a 14-15 record and a 3.45 ERA in his 50 home starts with Miami.

“He’s actually amazing,” Soler said of López via an interpreter. “That slider is just running really strong. He’s throwing 97 [mph]. He’s always been throwing them to the corners. But this time, with even more velocity.”

In his first two starts with the Twins, López has recorded 16 strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings and has allowed just one run.

“I can’t wait to go to Target Field now,” the Twins’ ace said. “I pitched here during the WBC. I pitched here now, so I’m excited to finally go to Target Field. 

“I’m very comfortable with that mound [at loanDepot park]. That’s where I’ve made a vast majority of all my big league starts. I’m very comfortable with it. It’s a good ballpark to pitch. The mound’s huge.  … It’s a great mound. I have a lot of good memories there. A lot of good memories in this ballpark. But I’m looking forward to going to Target Field and getting it going.”