WORLD SERIES: Giants like their chances with reliever Lopez

MLB

SAN FRANCISCO – The moment will arrive in the seventh or eighth
inning of a World Series game, perhaps as soon as tonight’s opener.
Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton will match his power against the
trickery of San Francisco left-handed reliever Javier Lopez.
The Giants like their chances.
SAN FRANCISCO – The moment will arrive in the seventh or eighth inning of a World Series game, perhaps as soon as tonight’s opener. Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton will match his power against the trickery of San Francisco left-handed reliever Javier Lopez.

The Giants like their chances.

“He (Lopez) has what you like late in the game,” San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said on Tuesday. “There’s no fear.”

With Lopez, the Giants are far more likely to challenge Hamilton by pitching to him in the late innings and letting the chips fall where they may. It is the opposite of the New York Yankees’ plan in the American League Championship Series.

Lopez, a 33-year-old journeyman, has been a key figure in the Giants’ surprising postseason run. He repeatedly has come out of the bullpen to tie up left-handed hitters into knots.

In two rounds of the National League playoffs, left-handed hitters were 0-for-11 against Lopez, with all the at-bats in the seventh or eighth innings coming with the game on the line. Atlanta rookie sensation Jason Heyward went 0-for-2 against Lopez in a division series. Philadelphia’s powerful pair of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard was a combined 0-for-9 against Lopez in the NL Championship Series.

“It’s hard to say where we’d be if we didn’t have him (Lopez) in that Phillies series,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Tuesday. “He’s going to throw strikes and he’s going to go after hitters. And he’s got great stuff.”

Bochy is stretching it on the last point. Lopez has an ordinary sinking fastball that stays in the high 80-mph range and a slider. Deception makes him effective.

Lopez is a side-armer, the delivery of last resort for most pitchers. He releases the baseball from multiple arm angles. Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti compared Lopez’ approach to basketball Hall of Famer Rick Barry shooting free throws underhanded. It is an odd but effective approach, but few dare try it.

“It’s not easy,” Righetti said. “It’s really a tough way to pitch. It’s a different animal. He’s made it an art, and he’s darn good at it.”

Less than a year ago, Lopez was out of a job. There was not much demand for a reliever who had a 9.26 ERA with 20 hits allowed in 11 2/3 innings, Lopez’ log with Boston in 2009. The best he could do was a minor-league contract and an invitation to spring training with lowly Pittsburgh.

Lopez pitched well enough with the Pirates to attract attention. The Giants, without a lefthander in the bullpen, obtained him on July 31 in a little-noticed deal that took on more and more impact. In 19 innings with the Giants, Lopez allowed only 13 base runners with 16 strikeouts. For the entire season, he held left-handed hitters to a .162 average in 99 at-bats.

“He certainly helped us bridge the gap to get to closer Brian Wilson,” Bochy said.

That meant facing tough left-handed hitters in the seventh and eighth innings. Lopez will do that again in this series, with Hamilton the target.

“It’s not getting any easier,” Lopez said. “I’ll try to keep the variety up, because I don’t have the velocity to get it by guys.”

– Story by Gerry Fraley, The Dallas Morning News

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