Royals’ Jorge Lopez pitches six scoreless to beat the Marlins
Royals pitcher Jorge Lopez saved his best start of the season for September. Not only did he log his longest scoreless outing of the season, but he also didn’t issue a walk.
Lopez, who got bumped out of the starting rotation and into the bullpen in May in favor of Glenn Sparkman, tossed six scoreless innings with five strikeouts to put the Royals on their way to a 3-0 win over the Miami Marlins in front of an announced 8,915 at Marlins Park on Friday night in the first game of their interleague series.
A right-hander from Puerto Rico, Lopez struggled mightily as a starter after getting a spot in the rotation out of spring training. He entered Friday night with a 7.16 ERA as a starter this season (13 starts), opponents batting .282 against him with .544 slugging percentage.
While a case could be made that a Marlins offense that lacked teeth contributed to Lopez’s outing, he’s certainly more confident. He went as far as to say he feels like a different pitcher late in the season than he was in March and April.
“Absolutely, it’s way different,” Lopez said. “I just keep attacking guys. I’ve got conviction with every pitch I throw.”
Lopez’s last start before Friday came in Baltimore with a pitch limit of 65 pitches going into the game. He held that offense to one run on two hits in five innings.
He’s made some minor adjustments since his move to the bullpen, such as working out of the stretch even without men on, a change Danny Duffy has also made, but his main difference appears to going after hitters early in counts.
Friday, Lopez’s fastball touched 96 mph — he used both a four-seamer and a two-seamer — and he kept hitters off balance with his curveball and mixed in the change-up as well.
“He went through phases where he wasn’t very good,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “We put him in the pen and are giving him another opportunity as a starter. He’s really kind of stepped up and taken advantage of the opportunity, really. … His stuff is as good as anybody we’ve got on our team.”
First baseman Ryan O’Hearn and second baseman Whit Merrifield each went 2 for 4 and drove in one run apiece for Kansas City, while Hunter Dozier also had two hits, including his 25th home run of the season. Dozier now has 78 RBIs this year.
“He’s got unbelievable stuff,” Dozier said of Lopez. “It was just a matter of time. We’re starting to see it the past couple starts. He’s a guy that we need. His stuff is so good. He’s going to be real good for us. It’s really encouraging to see him throw the ball like he did tonight.”
Lopez, batting in the National League ballpark, also helped set up the game’s first run with a successful sacrifice bunt in the third inning. The Royals scored the game’s first run one batter later on a Merrifield RBI single to right field that scored Meibrys Viloria.
The Royals held onto that slim margin until they added runs in the seventh and eighth innings. Though Lopez needed some help in the fifth after Lopez gave up a single followed by a double to the left-center-field gap to the opposing pitcher.
The lead runner, Bryan Holaday tried to score from first on the double. Center fielder Brett Phillips’ relay throw sailed over the cut-off man, shortstop Adalberto Mondesi, but Merrifield snagged the high throw, wheeled and fired home to Viloria in time to cut down Holaday at the plate.
“Just standard Spring Training 101,” Merrifield said. “Ball in the left-center gap, double cut to home. Phillips made a good throw, a little high, but that’s why we have two guys there — so the back man can get it. Luckily, they had a catcher running and we were able to get him out.”
The Royals second run came courtesy of an O’Hearn RBI double off the base of the left field wall in the seventh. Dozier crushed a first-pitch to center field with two outs in the eighth.
Kevin McCarthy, Scott Barlow and Ian Kennedy each threw a scoreless inning in relief. Kennedy pitched the ninth to complete the shutout, earning his 27th save of the season.
The two sides continue the series on Saturday night at Marlins Park. Left-hander Danny Duffy (5-6, 4.89) will start for the Royals. The Marlins will start left-hander Caleb Smith (8-9, 4.350).
Note: The Royals announced that Oklahoma State University and defending NCAA baseball national champion, Vanderbilt University, will play an exhibition game at noon on Saturday October 26 at the Kansas City Urban Youth Academy.