R. Lopez Handcuffs Mariners

Rodrigo Lopez
Rodrigo Lopez has one of his best outings of the season against Seattle on Wednesday night, allowing only one run over eight innings in the Orioles' 3-1 win. (Gail Burton - AP)
By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 26, 2005

BALTIMORE, May 25 -- While clearing out garbage from his locker before Wednesday's game, Rodrigo Lopez crumpled up a piece of paper and aimed for a trash can several feet away. A woman, with her arms crossed, stood near the trash can, slightly blocking the pitcher's view. Lopez told her not to move. Lopez wound up, aimed and threw the piece of paper. It hit the woman square in the chest. An embarrassed Lopez profusely apologized. He smiled and then said, "I hope my pitches have as much movement as that piece of paper."

Apparently they did. Seattle did little against Lopez in Baltimore's 3-1 win against the Mariners. Seattle scored a run in the fifth inning against him on a single by Jeremy Reed and that was it. The Mariners had more than one hit against him in an inning only twice and had only five hits total. Lopez, who pitched eight innings, was masterful, helping build Baltimore's lead in the American League East to four games.

"I kept the fastball moving and down, and that was a good thing," Lopez said. "The movement of the fastball helped me a lot."

The pitcher's recent slump was troubling. He had allowed 15 earned runs in his three starts prior to Wednesday. In those outings, Lopez faced the Chicago White Sox and the Kansas City Royals, two teams ranked ninth and 13th, respectively, in batting average in the American League. Lopez had won his first two starts of the year, but hadn't won since -- a span of seven starts.

"I needed to win," Lopez said. "I won my first two decisions then it was tough to get a win."

Lopez couldn't explain his troubles. He said he felt fine. His velocity didn't seem to be much different. The pitcher said he would not panic. Four years in the majors had taught him adjustments are often best made on a small scale.

When he analyzed his start last week against the Royals -- when he allowed six runs in seven innings -- Lopez noticed he was jumping forward too much off the mound.

"Today, I think I stayed back and all my pitches were working," Lopez said.

Usually Lopez works at a slow pace, painstakingly dissecting the catcher's signs between pitches. But on Wednesday, Lopez seemed to have a rhythm. Several times he seemed ready to throw a pitch quickly after receiving the ball from the catcher, only to have to wait for the hitter to get set. He threw just 82 pitches in the win. The game lasted just 1 hour 55 minutes -- the quickest game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards since 1998.

"When I'm throwing from the windup, I go quicker," Lopez said. "When I get men on base that's when I work slower."

Lopez simply didn't allow many men on base.

It will certainly help overcome the loss of catcher Javy Lopez, who is lost for at least six weeks with a broken bone in his right hand, if Rafael Palmeiro continues his surge. Palmeiro's two-run home run in the first, which barely snuck in to the left of the right field foul pole and over the right field wall, was his fourth since May 10.

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