“I hope I can make another start so I can win 10 games,” he says
By Christopher Heun
In a move that should have been made months ago, struggling starting pitcher Rodrigo Lopez was removed from the rotation last week and sent to the bullpen. His response? To whine that he now might not record 10 victories this season.
Perhaps someone should inform him that he’s lucky to even have a major league job.
Let’s ignore, for a moment, the obvious facts that his personal statistics mean very little on a fourth-place club, or that he could have earned his 10th win weeks ago if only he hadn’t been among the worst starters in the American League this year.
We can pile on the bad news in a minute. (There’s plenty of it, and his petulance means he deserves to get buried in it.) But first, let’s put on the rose-colored glasses. This move could be good for Lopez because the bullpen has been kind to him in the past.
He started the 2004 season as the odd man out of the Orioles rotation and was nearly unhittable, at one point holding batters to a .138 average, allowing just 17 baserunners in 23 2/3 innings and recording a 0.38 ERA. The Sun described him as “the most effective long reliever in the majors the first six weeks of the season.”
He was promoted to the rotation in May, went 2-1 with a 6.41 ERA in five starts, and was sent back to the bullpen. He wound up making 32 starts that year along with 14 relief appearances, and his 3.59 ERA was sixth best in the AL. His 1.277 walks and hits per innings pitched was 10th best in the league.
He put up similar numbers in 2002, his first year with the Orioles, when he also made five relief appearances. They are without question his best seasons. (For a more in-depth look at Lopez’s career, check out this story on “The Orioles Warehouse.”)
Last year, he managed to win 15 games with an ERA of 4.90. This season, he’s been awful: 9-15 with a 5.95 ERA. His 15 losses and 115 earned runs allowed were tops in baseball as of Friday.
Lopez has not been giving up more walks than in previous seasons, and he's back to striking out 6.31 batters per nine innings after falling to about five per nine innings a year ago. His problem has been the long ball.
Michael Hollman of “Inside the Warehouse” pointed out recently that “Lopez has seen a dramatic rise in his home runs allowed rate to 1.56 per nine innings. He's certainly seen his fair share of bad luck, but it's hard to excuse that many home runs.” Which is why it’s galling for Lopez to say this when informed of his demotion to the ‘pen:
“I am not happy and I don't think it's right. But I am trying [not] to be upset. I am just trying to pitch anywhere and I hope I can make another start so I can win 10 games.”
Don’t ask him to pitch in relief next year, either, he said. The Orioles have the rights to the pitcher for 2007.
"No, that's definitely not something that I want to do," he said. "If they are going to give a chance to new starters, that's OK for the team but not for me. I don't know what's going to happen. It's not something that I want to think about, but right now, it's not a good situation for me."
But it is a good situation for him – for him and his stats. Sadly, he’s ignorant of that fact.