López looks relieved to be changing responsibilities

Jorge López joined the other Orioles pitchers yesterday throwing in the outfield, dark clouds rolling in but failing to produce rain that would have rushed the group back inside the clubhouse. He cut through the dugout after he finished, a big smile on his face, a stark contrast to his mood during and after his last start in St. Petersburg, Fla.

López was removed from the game after two innings, and after he received a mound visit to check on his physical condition and a conversation with manager Brandon Hyde as he sat on the bench. He just seemed out of sorts, with bad body language and fastball velocity that dipped into the 80s and kept registering as changeups.

Mound-Visit-Checking-on-Lopez-Sidebar.jpgSomething wasn’t right and his health wasn’t the issue.

Hyde decided that López needed to clear his head and alter his routine, which led to the right-hander’s bullpen assignment. The days spent between starts weren’t good for him. Better to arrive at the ballpark unsure whether the voice on the other end of the bullpen phone will utter his name.

The result has been two scoreless outings with one hit, one walk and six strikeouts in three innings. His four-seamer and sinker were registering in the 96-98 mph range Thursday afternoon as he covered the last two innings against the Angels.

“I feel like the skipper said, and I agree with him, that not knowing the day I throw or just keeping relaxed over there, I feel like that gives him a little confidence, I guess, to just get to the mound and just attack guys like I do,” López said.

López’s 14 losses in 17 decisions still lead the majors, and he’s posted a 6.35 ERA and 1.676 WHIP in 25 starts.

Working out of a rotation, which he’s done for most of his career, “is something I have to change at this point, and so far I’m doing well and you guys see it,” he said.

“It’s something that, from a mental part, I have to focus better, and I think just being out there with the guys, learning the experience over there, just keeping relaxed, I feel that just keeps me going. I don’t change anything from being a starter to being a reliever, but you’re used different.

“It was hot (Thursday) and I just wanted to get out of there as soon as I can. I know the guys were tired already, and I just want to get the quick outs. I finished strong.”

López has pitched in relief in 38 games between the Brewers, Royals and Orioles. Only two of his 13 appearances with Milwaukee came as a starter. He isn’t a fish out of rotation waters. It’s just been a lengthy audition with the Orioles, who believe he has starter stuff but also know it transfers nicely to the later innings.

“It doesn’t even matter,” López said. “I feel like I prepare myself so well. I was used to being in the bullpen when I got called up, and in Kansas City, also. At this point I don’t make the decision. They asked me and just being here is a blessing. I feel lucky to just be here, even with all the stuff we’ve been through.

“It’s just, keep trusting the process and hopefully get better.”

Hyde won’t commit to one role for Lopez at such an early stage of the transition. And with a rotation that isn’t exactly in solid condition.

López would have been used in bulk relief Thursday if starter Keegan Akin made a fast exit, but the left-hander worked a career-high seven innings. López could close if Rule 5 pick Tyler Wells isn’t available. There are other points in a game when he might get the call, ideally in situations that limit his exposure to lineups.

“I don’t really have a plan in place at this point,” Hyde said. “I’m just kind of seeing what it looks like and seeing if we’re going to use him in bulk, if we’re going to use him in short spurts, if he’s going to start again. I’m not really sure at this point.

“I think we’re looking to see what he looks like right now. And he’s looked really good his last two appearances.”

The smile on López’s face was just as nice.

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