To put it in his own words, Orioles right-hander Jorge Lopez, enjoying sustained Major League success for the first time at 29, is “letting it rip” and he’s having a blast closing games and being around a young team he said has had great energy from the start of spring training.
Lopez, who went 3-14 with a 6.07 ERA last year, mostly as a starter, now is 3-3 with seven saves and a 1.00 ERA. He has a 0.983 WHIP and his fastball velocity, which was 95.2 mph as a starter, is now 97.8 mph on average out of the bullpen.
And he has done some heavy lifting too, getting three saves of more than one inning, including a four-out save on Saturday versus Cleveland. Right now Lopez is up for whatever it takes in the late innings.
“I mean, every game you have to prepare for, no matter what. It doesn’t matter,” he said. “You have to be prepared for whatever situation. That is why we are in the bullpen, so, from what I have been learning, it’s just one more out. It makes it a little more difficult, but it is not something bigger than when I was a starter. There I might have to face 20 or more batters, so being able to just come out and hold the other team and have the chance to get the win is huge. It’s really huge and important for us to show what we can do and for me the first time being in this position is a good time to just let it rip and see what’s going on.
“So far it’s been really good. I’ve been feeling extremely good, my body and physically and mentally. So just keep going.”
Of his 23 appearances, Lopez has thrown scoreless ball 18 times. He ranks in the top four percent of the majors in lowest hard-hit percentage, making him among the toughest to square the ball up against and he’s in the top seven percent of lowest barrel percentage.
As an added benefit, he is a closer that can use four pitches, when most in the ninth use one or two pitches. Lopez has used all four pitches in his last three saves, even if he used some offerings for just a pitch or two. They are in his arsenal and the batters have to be aware of them.
“Absolutely,” he said, agreeing that having multiple pitches in the ninth could be big for him. “As many weapons as I can show to the hitters, they know they only have to face me one time, so they have think about four pitches. So, it helps me with the mentality of maybe confusing them a bit by what they may be expecting. Many relievers focus on two pitches and get the fastball command going and then get the slider or curve, whatever they have as a second-best pitch. For me to have four is huge for me.
“Right now all my four pitches have been plus. I just get there and try to go pitch-by-pitch and concentrate," he said of his focus in save situations.
And Lopez said he is having a great time being part of the 2022 Orioles, a young team hungry to get better and one that enjoys playing with each other.
“Heck yeah. I felt this since spring training. So much good energy on this team and these young guys are making this very fun. It sounds crazy being a bullpen veteran at 29. But we all realize just have fun. My dad always told me to have fun out there," he said.
Homer happy O's: Maybe the talk of hitting homers over the expanded left-field wall will lessen now that the O's are bashing the longball with greater regularity.
The Orioles hit five homers last night to tie a season-high in their 9-3 win over the Chicago Cubs and they have hit nine homers the past three games and 13 in the last six. In their past three games the Orioles have just 17 hits, but nine are homers.
The Baltimore offense, which averaged just two runs per game in the season's first 12 games, has now scored 200 runs the past 45 games, averaging 4.44 per night. The AL average is 4.08 this season. And the Orioles have done even better scoring 102 runs the past 19 games for an average of 5.37 per game in that span.
Austin Hays' blast that traveled 464 feet in the fifth inning made him the seventh player to homer into the second deck at Oriole Park since it opened in 1992. He is the fourth Oriole following Mark Reynolds, Manny Machado and Maikel Franco.
Hays homer was a career-long 464 feet, a career-best for Hays by 43 feet. It's the sixth-longest home run by an O’s batter in the Statcast era (since 2015) and the longest home run by an Oriole since Keon Broxton tagged a 474-foot long ball on May 24, 2019 at Colorado.
The Orioles improved to 4-3 versus National League teams, to 15-15 at home and to 19-9 when scoring four runs or more.
The O's bullpen allowed one run or less for the 29th time.