“I like a challenge” – The Mercury News

After the trade that cost him two of his high-leverage relives, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde wasn’t shy about his intentions with right-hander Jorge López.

“You’re going to see Jorge López hitting big spots,” Hyde said to Baltimore earlier this week handed out to the Miami Marlins by Tanner Scott and Cole Sulser.

Hyde didn’t take long to show he meant the statement, prompting López to face the heart of the Tampa Bay Rays in the eighth inning of Friday’s 2-1 season-opener loss. Although López allowed the go-ahead, he showed why Hyde trusted him at that point. The average speed at each of his three pitches on Friday was about 5km/h above his levels in 2021, a season he spent mostly as a struggling starter. According to Baseball Savant, his sinker averaged 98.5 mph and climbed to 99.3 mph.

“His fastball speed has really skyrocketed and now he’s at 98, 99,” Hyde said afterwards. “He’s now a weapon against right-handers and left-handers. He’s always had a starter mix of course, but now the Velo is really cranked up, the transitions have gotten better, the breaking ball you’ve seen has gotten better and the confidence is there.

“Lopie will pitch most games.”

Hyde doesn’t have many other options for this type of role, as Dillon Tate and Paul Fry are the only other pitchers in his bullpen with at least two years of major league service. But López’s stuff is dynamic and, as Hyde noted, his confidence has also improved with the role change.

“I like the challenge,” said López. “I feel like just being here already and having another opportunity, another opening day, is a big opportunity.

“This opportunity, even with what happened last year, is exactly what I wanted. I just want to keep going and getting better.”

Acquired by the Kansas City Royals on waivers in 2020, the 29-year-old López spent much of the last year in Baltimore’s rotation and frequently got into trouble in the middle innings. He showed potential as a helper late in the season, only when a sprained right ankle spoiled the show after eight outings as he finished the year with a 6.07 EPOCH.

Now he could be Hyde’s main helper in the biggest games whenever they come. Friday, that was with a runner in first place and no outs in eighth place. López gave Ji-Man Choi an eight-pitch walk before Randy Arozarena ran first to hit an infield single that strained the bases; The ball had an exit speed of 49.9 miles per hour and an expected batting average of .230, according to Baseball Savant. After the bases loaded, López got a grounder from Brandon Lowe (Maryland) for a fielder choice at home, but Francisco Mejía was able to air a change for a game-winning sacrifice fly. Another walk followed to reload the bases, although Fry left them that way to keep López’s ERA clean.

Early in spring training, Hyde said the Orioles are considering extending López to serve as a length option again, but the possibility of him being relieved briefly proved too intriguing not to take a longer look. López, who was nudged into the back end of Baltimore’s bullpen, is already looking forward to a chance to improve on Friday’s performance.

It fits with how Hyde described his attitude after moving to relief last year, with López coming into his office each day and saying he was available that evening.

“It’s good to have the opportunity,” said López. “I’ve never had that before and it’s good to step in and have that kind of opportunity to just keep going with my mentality, attacking the batsmen, just trying to keep the game tight and that’s my job. I can’t control anything else. I can only control what I can control and my next step is to just keep going.”

The Orioles’ hope is that more pitchers will challenge López for these opportunities. Before Tate allowed a leadoff single in eighth place and gave way to López, he, Bryan Baker and Cionel Pérez all bowed out together to give up nine straight Rays. Baker and Pérez, like López, were waivers and both made their team debuts.

“I told them you’re all going to be in big places, at different leverage points, just because I have to figure out who can do what and what part of the game they’re most comfortable with,” Hyde said. “Really happy with how Baker threw the ball. Cionel Pérez was outstanding. That really encourages us. I really liked Tate in the seventh and Lopie had good stuff in the eighth.

“These guys will continue to get opportunities.”


https://www.mercurynews.com/2022/04/09/thrust-into-new-role-orioles-jorge-lpez-embracing-reliever-mentality-i-like-the-challenge/ “I like a challenge” – The Mercury News

Joel McCord

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