Rockies acquire Lopez from Orioles
Colorado deals pair of Minor Leaguers for right-hander
DENVER -- Right-hander Rodrigo Lopez has spent the offseason retooling his pitching strategy, consulting with a sports psychologist and studying on his own to return to his happy place. But it helps to be in better place, literally.After a rough 2006 with the Orioles, Lopez got a new address on Friday when the Rockies acquired him in a trade. The Orioles received Minor League right-handers Jim Miller and Jason Burch. "It's great to be with a team that wants me to be there," said Lopez, 31. "That says a lot to me. I am going to work hard, and I have a lot of motivation to win as many games as I can for the Rockies." Lopez, 60-61 with a 4.83 career ERA, started the Orioles' opener three of the last four seasons and has three seasons of double figures in victories -- 15-9 in 2002, 14-9 in 2004 and 15-12 in 2005. Last season, Lopez struggled to a 9-18 record and 5.90 ERA in 36 games, including 29 starts, and he unhappily finished the year in the Orioles' bullpen. But Rockies front office assistant Mark Wiley was Lopez's pitching coach during his best years in Baltimore, and the Rockies have been trying to acquire him for about a year. Additionally, Rockies professional scout Will George has followed Lopez throughout his Major League career.
Lopez's departure from the Orioles has been rumored all offseason, but Lopez didn't wait for a trade to happen to begin planning to bounce back."I had a hard time getting myself to the point where I was the Rodrigo of the 2005 and 2004 seasons," Lopez said. "But since the season ended, I've been working on my confidence and mental skills. I'm working with somebody, and I've been doing a lot of thinking and reading books, trying to learn what works for me. I think it's working. "I think Mark Wiley had a lot to do with this trade. He worked with me for 2 1/2 years and we had a good relationship. He saw me in my good starts and in my bad starts, and he helped me have a lot of success." Lopez is at his best when he's changing speeds. He has an average fastball, about 89 mph, but it's more than adequate when he is mixing his pitches properly. Last year, he felt he relied on his fastball too much early in the season. Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd said he likes Lopez's health and durability -- he threw 189 innings last season even with the move to the bullpen, and threw 209 1/3 innings in 2005 -- and the move to the bullpen showed that he has versatility.
The acquisition of Lopez all but completes the tweaking of the Rockies' pitching rotation that began when they sent two-time Opening Day starter Jason Jennings to the Astros for center fielder Willy Taveras and young right-handers Taylor Buchholz and Jason Hirsh.
The Rockies also hope to sign free-agent righty Brian Lawrence, who is expected to make a decision early next week. And a wild-card contender for a spot is Mexican League star Oscar Rivera, who will compete for a job as a non-roster invitee."We feel good about our depth, and we're expecting some of our younger players to have really big years for us," O'Dowd said. Also impressive to the Rockies was the fact Lopez was a competitive pitcher in the difficult American League East. He made 39 starts against the Red Sox and Yankees.
"He showed that he, more often than not, was a good pitcher against the challenging competition, with the exception of last year," said Rockies manager Clint Hurdle, who said he will not begin to slot pitchers in the rotation until Spring Training. "He is coming off a year that was below the standards that he had set for himself. Rodrigo is looking to show up better."
The arbitration-eligible Lopez made $3.75 million last season. The Rockies had planned on Jennings making $5.5 million this year, so fitting Lopez in the payroll budget is not a problem. And in an offseason that has seen pitchers make startling dollars on the open market, the Rockies were able to add the seasoned Lopez for two pitchers that were not on their 40-man Major League roster.
With four starters back from last season -- right-hander Aaron Cook, left-hander Jeff Francis and back-of-the-rotation righties Byung-Hyun Kim and Josh Fogg -- Lopez joining the additions from the Astros and the possible signing of Lawrence, O'Dowd believes the Rockies have strengthened themselves.Last season, Lopez expressed displeasure when he was skipped in the rotation early and placed in the bullpen late, but he said he holds no hard feelings toward the Orioles. "I wasn't happy when they put me back in the bullpen for the last month or so," Lopez said. "But now, in the offseason, I realize what their needs were, and I realize that it was good for me at the time. I was mad back then, but I have no regrets." Lopez considers himself young, but he'll be the oldest of the Rockies' starters. "I will be more focused on doing my job, but I'll be glad to help if anyone asks for it -- I always like to be a good person in the clubhouse," Lopez said. "Colorado has been very interested in my services this offseason, and I needed a new, fresh start. I can't wait to get to work for the Rockies." Lopez will be reunited with catcher Javier Lopez, who began last season with the Orioles and signed with the Rockies this offseason. In the 13 games the Lopezes started together last season, Rodrigo Lopez was 7-4 with a 4.79 ERA.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.