On pace to catch 134 games for the Baltimore Orioles this season, Javy Lopez says he is concerned about a workload that has grown far heavier than he expected.
"It's been hard, no doubt," Lopez said this week. "This is the first time I've experienced catching that much. It's something that I can deal with, but at the same time, I'm afraid that, at the end of the year, my knees are gonna explode."
Halfway through the season, Lopez has started 67 of 82 games, putting him on pace for a career high. His highest single-season total was 125 in 1996 when he was 25.
"At the moment I feel fine," Lopez said. "I'm just afraid I need that little rest more often, especially during the summer because of the heat. I never experienced that before. I've never caught so many games so early. But at least it's something that I can handle. If I have to do it, I have to do it, but at the same time I'm a little concerned about the last month of the season.
"I thought the older you get, the more breaks you get. But, in my case, it's the opposite, which is cool because the more I work, the younger I feel, I guess."
Offensively, Lopez had his best season in 2003, hitting .328 with 43 home runs for the Atlanta Braves. Although his slugging percentage has dropped from .687 to .481, he is hitting .319 with 11 home runs.
The Orioles signed Lopez to a three-year, $22.5 million deal in December with the understanding that he would spend some time at designated hitter. Of the two premier catchers on the market during the offseason, the Orioles grabbed Lopez, and Ivan Rodriguez signed with Detroit.
News that journeyman catcher Ken Huckaby had been claimed off waivers from the Texas Rangers had barely reached the Orioles clubhouse before Wednesday's 13-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, but Lopez seemed a little relieved.
"If the purpose of [having a third catcher] is to put me more as the DH, it's very welcome," Lopez said of Huckaby's signing. "That will help."
The Orioles have been handcuffed with only two catchers, Lopez and Robert Machado, on the 25-man roster. If the team started Lopez at DH and Machado behind the plate, there was no room for incident or injury without risking losing the DH spot. With Huckaby as insurance, Lopez should spend more time at DH, according to Rick Dempsey, the Orioles' first base-catching coach.
Dempsey said the ideal situation would have Lopez behind the plate five games each week and in the DH slot for two with an occasional day of full rest, something that should become possible with three catchers. Lopez went hitless in four at-bats as the DH in Wednesday's loss.
"I think it's good for [Lopez] him the way things have transpired so far this year," Dempsey said of the addition of Huckaby to the team. "We can see that, at this point in the season, he does need a little bit of help back there, a few more days off. We have depended on him very heavily offensively. It's going to give him more time to play the DH role and give him some rest."
Other than the additional workload, Lopez has found himself in a very different situation than he was with the Braves for 12 years. With the Braves, Lopez played in every postseason and caught arguably the best pitching staff of the decade with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.
The Orioles, who are 10 games below .500, boast a young, mostly inexperienced pitching staff, the management of which falls to Lopez.
"Working every single day like that, you get a day off [and] I mean it's just like someone coming and washing the car," Dempsey said. "It just cleans everything up, cleans your mind out, gets you away from having to think one pitch after another. You feel stronger when you walk out the next day. You can definitely feel a difference physically and then it helps you to relax mentally."
Orioles Note: The team recalled infielder Jose Leon from Class AAA Ottawa to take the place of right-hander Rick Bauer. Leon hit .143 in 13 games with the Orioles from May 25 to June 20 and has hit .323 with 15 home runs and 43 RBI in 51 games for Ottawa. Bauer was optioned to Ottawa after Wednesday's loss.