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Lopez struts winning stuff in KC's shutout victory

Righty goes 6 strong frames, working out of stretch vs. Marlins
@cdenicola13
September 7, 2019

MIAMI -- Jorge López couldn’t have done much more to impress his father-in-law, who watched the Royals right-hander pitch in person for the first time on Friday night at Marlins Park. Lopez went six innings in the first scoreless start of his career in Kansas City’s 3-0 win over Miami.

MIAMI -- Jorge López couldn’t have done much more to impress his father-in-law, who watched the Royals right-hander pitch in person for the first time on Friday night at Marlins Park.

Lopez went six innings in the first scoreless start of his career in Kansas City’s 3-0 win over Miami. It marked his longest outing since going seven frames against the Tigers on May 3.

Box score

“I thought he threw great. I mean, really, really good,” manager Ned Yost said. “He went through phases where he wasn’t very good, and we put him in the ‘pen and gave him another opportunity as a starter, and he's really kind of stepped up and taken advantage of the opportunity, really.”

After opening the season in the rotation and losing his first six decisions, Lopez was relegated to the bullpen. But four of his last six outings have been starts, with back-to-back promising outings. Relievers Kevin McCarthy, Scott Barlow and Ian Kennedy allowed three hits over the final three innings, with Kennedy earning his 27th save.

The 26-year-old Lopez credits keeping things simple and deciding to stick to pitching from the stretch, something he did out of the bullpen after struggling with his windup as a starter.

“It's way different,” said Lopez, who scattered four hits and struck out five batters. “I just attack guys, get conviction with every pitch I throw. I was ready to throw and I step off, and I was just: ‘I need to throw this pitch to the glove and just make it easier.’”

A consistent theme from both postgame clubhouses concerned the “stuff” that Lopez contains -- despite what his numbers may show. Entering Friday, Lopez was 4-11 with a 6.71 ERA in 22 career starts.

“He's got unbelievable stuff, it's only a matter of time,” said Hunter Dozier, who belted his 25th homer for insurance in the eighth. “We're starting to see it the past couple of starts. He's a guy that we need. His stuff is so good, he's going to be really good for us. It's really encouraging to see him throw the ball like he did tonight.”

That stuff includes a curveball that Lopez threw 36 times -- most among his four pitches. He induced four groundouts with it, including a key situation with runners at the corners and two out in the second inning, and four of his five strikeouts came via the curve.

According to Statcast, Lopez continues to increase his usage of the curveball, which got six swinging strikes and seven called strikes. Pair that with two fastballs that hit 96 mph, and you’ve got a potent combination.

“The curveball has been really good the last couple outings. Today it was way better,” Lopez said. “I couldn’t have better command with it. Keep it down. Have two curveballs -- throw for strikes and one you bounce it when you need it.”

And in a rare instance of hard contact against him, Lopez got some help from his defense. A pivotal play came in the fifth inning with the Royals nursing a 1-0 lead and a runner at first base. Lopez gave up a two-out double off the left-center-field wall to opposing pitcher Pablo Lopez. Though Brett Phillips missed cutoff man Adalberto Mondesi, Whit Merrifield backed up on the play and he threw to home plate, where catcher Meibrys Viloria tagged out Bryan Holaday.

Holaday, Miami's backup catcher, entered the game with a 24.9 feet/second sprint speed per Statcast, well below the MLB average (27 feet/second).

“I knew it was a catcher at first, so I knew we might have a chance,” said Merrifield, who went 2-for-4 with an RBI to increase his Major League-leading hits total to 183. “I just caught it and threw it. It wasn't the best throw, but I did enough, and Viloria did a great job of digging it up. It was an in-between hop, so he did a really good job to catch it and put a tag on the guy.”

It proved to be a momentum boost for Lopez, who could be seen pumping his glove behind home plate. He also helped Kansas City score its first run in the third inning by laying down a sacrifice bunt to set up Merrifield’s RBI single.

“My job is to provide opportunity,” Yost said. “Their job is to take advantage of it. His last couple starts, he's done just that, and I'm pleased for him. He went through some hard times. Felt like there were times he couldn’t get anybody out. Now he's back to throwing a ball extremely well.”

Christina De Nicola is a reporter and game producer for MLB.com based in Miami. Follow her on Twitter @CDeNicola13.