Royals eyeing Lopez for rotation spot in 2020

September 10th, 2019

CHICAGO -- Royals right-hander continues to be one of the more intriguing figures on the team’s pitching staff.

A year ago, Lopez took a perfect game into the ninth inning against the Twins, a start that displayed the type of dazzling stuff he possesses. But his 2019 season has been marred by inconsistencies, as evidenced by 6.23 ERA.

“No doubt he has as good of stuff as anyone on our staff,” manager Ned Yost said. “It’s always just been a matter of him being able to command it with consistency.”

Yost and his coaching staff are starting to see some of that consistency from Lopez lately.

On Aug. 19, Lopez tossed five innings of one-run ball in a spot start against the Orioles. Less than a week later, he recorded his first career save, a 1-2-3 10th inning in Cleveland.

On Aug. 31, Lopez was solid through four innings in another spot start against Baltimore, giving up just one run. He stumbled a bit in the fifth and was tagged for three more runs, though much of that damage came on a three-run homer allowed by reliever Tim Hill.

But on Friday in Miami, Lopez bounced back with six shutout innings in a start against the Marlins, giving up four hits, walking none and striking out five.

Yost is a believer that Lopez should be a factor in the rotation in 2020.

“The answer to that is probably yes,” Yost said. “Going into next spring, I’m confident he will be in contention for a spot.

“It will depend on what he is able to do this winter and how he continues to grow, and how he produces next spring. Even if he continued to produce in the bullpen, he probably would still contend for a rotation spot because you can’t get enough of those guys. But this solidifies in my mind that he can be a starter, a productive starter. He just needs to keep moving forward, staying on the attack with his command.”

Lopez likely will get at least two more starts to show his growth this season, with his next outing set for Thursday's series finale against the White Sox. He has made some adjustments lately, like working out of the stretch full-time. He’s also considering going with his sinker more than his four-seamer, though he hasn’t made that commitment completely yet.

“I think most of his adjustments are more mental than anything,” Yost said. “Coming out of the stretch has simplified his mechanics. He just has so much more trust in his stuff than he did earlier this season. It’s a thin line with being on the attack, not just raring back and throwing it down the middle. It’s on the attack but with command. That’s what we need to see from him and he’s getting there.”