03/08/2003 9:44 PM ET
Notes: Lopez making an impression
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Two years ago, left-handed pitcher Javier Lopez was a minor leaguer who could feel his stock dropping fast. Desperately seeking to halt that free fall, Lopez decided he would drop something else. Namely his delivery.
|By Ian Browne / MLB.com
By adopting a submarine-style delivery, Lopez -- who spent his first five years in professional baseball in the Diamondbacks' organization -- saved himself from being submarined out of baseball.
Last year at Double-A El Paso, Lopez worked exclusively in relief for the first season of his career. And he made life miserable on left-handed batters, holding them to a .117 average. In 61 appearances, Lopez, who is vying for a spot this spring in the Boston bullpen, posted a 2.72 ERA and recorded 47 strikeouts in 46 1/3 innings.
Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein was impressed enough by his reports to select Lopez in the first round of December's Rule 5 Draft.
That was quite a vote of confidence, considering Lopez has never pitched above Double-A.
And the biggest reward for Lopez is that he's in Major League Spring Training for the first time.
"I'm just soaking this all in," said Lopez, who pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning Saturday night against the Reds. "It's been great, finally being able to come in and see a Derek Lowe and a Pedro Martinez and other pitchers that have established themselves over the past few years and to see position players with big names who I'm always watching on TV. It's been a great experience. It's pretty much night and day, Major League camp compared to minor league camp. Everybody knows your name and makes you feel welcome."
At 25 years old, Lopez is hoping to vault right over Triple-A and break camp with the Red Sox.
If Lopez doesn't make the team, rules of the Rule 5 Draft state that the Sox would have to offer the left-hander back to the Diamondbacks organization for $25,000, half of his Rule 5 purchase price. That could be avoided if the Red Sox provided the Diamondbacks with another player -- or perhaps some cash considerations.
No matter how it turns out, Lopez is hoping the decision will be a tough one for manager Grady Little. In his first four outings this spring, Lopez hasn't allowed an earned run while pitching 3 2/3 innings.
"I'm hoping I can do everything I need to do down here to show the manager and coaches I can get big league hitters out," said Lopez, who was born in Puerto Rico, but grew up in Fairfax, Va. "Just being an athlete and being competitive, you always want to be challenged by the best. And the best are in the big leagues."
Little has a barrage of relievers fighting for roster slots. However, Alan Embree is the only lefty reliever who is a lock to make the team. That leaves Lopez and fellow Rule 5 draftee Matt White vying to be the second lefty -- if in fact Little decides he needs a second lefty.
"Javier Lopez, he's just like what he was billed coming in here," said Little. "He looks like he's awfully tough against left-handed hitters. He looks resilient. We haven't used him in a lot of games, but he's done a lot of throwing."
The change to sidearm was very much a matter of survival for Lopez.
"When I dropped down, I wasn't really even thinking of becoming a lefty specialist. I was just thinking anything to get me up to another level or keep me in the game. Over the top I was a mediocre guy," Lopez said. "The inability to move up was very apparent in Double-A. I pitched myself out of A-Ball but Double-A was giving me fits. So I dropped down and things actually turned around for me."
Helping Lopez's transition was that the new delivery felt fairly natural.
"I played first base (at the University of Virginia) and it was a nice short arm action that I'd always had from there. It just kind of came natural," said Lopez. "I started dropping down against lefties my last two or three outings of 2001. Last year, I was exclusively dropping down."
All of a sudden, instead of hitters rushing to the plate to face Lopez, he could sense their bewilderment.
"Once I started out I got some really funky swings, some different reactions from hitters that I wasn't used to seeing," said Lopez. "Obviously it turned out to be a good thing."
He just hopes he makes enough of a case over the next three weeks to be Boston-bound by April.
"He's been very impressive," said Red Sox pitching coach Tony Cloninger. "He's done everything we've asked him to do. I know he has a pretty good changeup he's gotten righties out on before. Hopefully he will get a chance to see some right-handed hitters so we can see how well he does against those. He looks like he (could be) very deceptive from both sides of the plate."
Lowe-ly outing: Derek Lowe didn't have any excuses for his subpar performance (three innings, six hits, five earned runs, three walks) against the Reds.
"This was the equivalent to a hitter going 0-for-3 and striking out all three times," said Lowe. "It was one of those things where I'm not effective whatsoever when I don't throw strikes. You look at three walks -- I think they all scored. They always do. From a pitcher's standpoint, there was absolutely nothing you could walk away with saying I did well."
Lowe, however, didn't plan on losing any sleep over Saturday's disappointing exhibition outing.
"It would be different if it was a month from now," Lowe said. "I'm not trying to make light of the fact that I pitched bad. But if I sit here and stew over it, nothing good will come from it. There are four more (outings) to go."
Moving across the diamond: Shea Hillenbrand will start at first base for the first time this spring on Sunday at City of Palms Park against the Blue Jays. First base was one of several positions Hillenbrand played in the minors.
Hillenbrand has been Boston's starting third baseman the last two seasons but the Red Sox have added a second quality man to play the hot corner in Bill Mueller. With Mueller able to play second and Hillenbrand offering experience at first, both third basemen should both get plenty of at-bats this season.
The skipper speaks: "Trot's starting out a little bit slow here as far as getting some base hits. But Trot's one of these players, you watch him play for a whole season and you look up at the end of the season and the numbers look pretty good. You can't really get overwhelmed by his peaks or his valleys. He likes to do good every day he plays and he doesn't like it when he doesn't do good." - Little on right fielder Trot Nixon, who has mustered just two hits in his first 17 at bats of the spring.
Stretching them out: Little said that several everyday players will begin going nine innings next week, but not on back-to-back days.
Quoting em: "Tek's going to have to ice his back after the game. I don't know how many times he set up inside and I threw it low and away. He's going to be a stiff man." - Lowe, noting that his lack of control Saturday night gave catcher Jason Varitek a serious workout.
Coming up: The Sox host the Blue Jays Sunday afternoon at City of Palms Park. John Burkett makes his third start of the spring.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.