JUPITER, Fla. -- Since the end of last season, Marlins right-hander Pablo Lopez has added about eight pounds of muscle. The increased strength, along with refined mechanics, has thus far translated into increased velocity.
In Lopez's most recent outing, three innings of scoreless relief on Monday in a 9-8 win over the Nationals, Lopez's fastball topped out at 97 mph.
A year ago, in 10 big league starts and 58 2/3 innings, Lopez's four-seam fastball touched 96 mph a few times, but never higher, according to Statcast. In 2018, his four-seam fastball average was 92.7 mph.
"It feels I have better rhythm," said Lopez, listed at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds. "We talk about good tempo, good rhythm on the mound. You want to feel like the ball is smooth coming out of your hand. It helps me stay under control."
Lopez, 23, is competing for a rotation spot. But he's also returning from a right shoulder strain that caused him to miss all of last September. He finished the year with a 2-4 record and a 4.14 ERA.
Fully healthy, Lopez isn't under any throwing restrictions. The right-hander has thrown five innings in Grapefruit League action, and he has a 1.80 ERA in his two games.
"Mainly, I'm working [on] some mechanics, trying to use my lower half better," Lopez said. "Not just relying on the arm."
Lopez described his mechanical objective as trying to create a "north to south motion" with his body movement to generate arm speed.
"We try to gather as much force as we can when we lift our leg," Lopez said. "As soon as we gather that, we go down the slope, creating an angle."
Opponents batted .275 off Lopez's four-seamer last year.
As much as he's working on his fastball mechanics, Lopez also is refining his curveball, a crucial pitch for him. Last season with Miami, hitters batted .237 off his curveball.
"It's not quite there yet. It's something I have to keep on, and keep developing," Lopez said. "Keep working on it every single day. Try to spin some at the beginning of my throwing program, try to spin more at the end in bullpen [sessions]. I've been working on that."
Prospect Jordan Holloway is gaining valuable lessons pitching in his first big league camp.
The 22-year-old is rebounding from Tommy John surgery, and he's getting experience facing big leaguers.
After Holloway threw a clean fifth inning, with his fastball reaching 98 mph, he struggled in the sixth inning and was lifted after recording one out.
"I actually thought [in] his second inning, he had a better breaking ball than he did in [his] first inning," said Miami bench coach Tim Wallach, who managed the Marlins in the split-squad game. "He had a hard time getting his breaking ball in there for strikes. I think all of his strikes in the [fifth] inning came on fastballs. In his second inning, he threw some really good curveballs. ... He's a young guy in his first camp, and he's trying to show us what he can do, and maybe trying a little too hard."
Added Holloway: "In my first inning, I didn't really have a good feel for [my curveball]. I just had to get back to getting comfortable throwing it. You've got to throw it for strikes. I just have to get that feeling back and get it back into the zone so I can use it as another pitch."
Alfaro gets day off
After playing the past two games, catcher Jorge Alfaro was given a day off on Wednesday. The timing was just right.
Alfaro had an injury scare in the second inning Tuesday against the Mets when he slid awkwardly into second base, and he appeared to aggravate his right knee, which was bruised on Feb. 23 in Miami's first Grapefruit League game. He spent a few seconds on the ground, adjusting the compression sleeve on his knee, and then walked carefully to the dugout.
Alfaro had caught four innings on Tuesday, his first game of the spring behind the plate. He was the designated hitter on Monday.
"I actually didn't have him in there today, but he was a little sore," manager Don Mattingly said. "We'll just kind of see where that goes. He got his at-bats in both games."
There's plenty of time to get Alfaro ready for Opening Day on March 28 against the Rockies at Marlins Park.
Acquired from the Phillies as part of the J.T. Realmuto trade, Alfaro is in the process of learning the pitching staff.
"That is one thing you like to have him back there more," Mattingly said. "The biggest things with catchers and pitchers is [that] catchers know their stuff, to understand [each] guy's strengths."