Twins announce Pablo Lopez as Opening Day starter
Sonny Gray will start the season’s 2nd game at Kansas City, and likely the April 6 home opener against Houston
FORT MYERS, Fla. — The cost to acquire Pablo Lopez was steep. It took a beloved batting champion, Luis Arraez, to get the deal done. But the Minnesota Twins felt it was worth it for a man they view as a top-of-the-rotation starter for the next two seasons.
What they’ve seen from him this spring has backed up their conviction, and on Friday the Twins announced that Lopez would draw the honor of being their Opening Day starter next Thursday in Kansas City.
“When we acquired him, we did that in the light of him being a high-end arm, a top of the rotation, high-end arm and … we’ve seen everything we had hoped to see and … more,” manager Rocco Baldelli said.
There were other good options. Every other member of the rotation — Sonny Gray, Joe Ryan, Tyler Mahle and Kenta Maeda — has started an Opening Day game before, so when Lopez found out the news last week when the Twins were trying to make backup plans to keep him on schedule in case he did not pitch a second game in the World Baseball Classic, he said the news came as a surprise.
“It felt really cool. Obviously, being part of a rotation, being able to go every five days and just do my job and help the team is already an honor,” Lopez said. “For Rocco to tell me he wanted me to have the ball the very first game on Opening Day obviously meant the world to me. It’s always nice to have that encouragement from the coaching staff, from the team.”
Lopez reported to camp ahead in his conditioning as he prepared to pitch for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic. In one start against Puerto Rico, he allowed one run and two hits in 4⅔ innings, striking out six in the process.
Venezuela was eliminated before he had a chance to pitch in the semifinals and instead returned to Fort Myers and got an inning of work in game action, then faced minor leaguers on a backfield. On Friday, he gave up two runs in three innings against the Yankees in his final spring tune up.
“Getting a chance to watch him in a really competitive environment right in the middle of the spring, go out there and pitch so dominantly against good hitters — and hitters that also prepared early for the WBC event — you really can’t ask a guy to come in and look much better,” Baldelli said.
Lopez, 27, is entering his sixth season in the majors and coming off a season in which he made a career-best 32 starts and finished with a 3.75 earned-run average. After the trade, Lopez said he was focused on showing his new team how seriously he took his routine and preparation and went about his business.
Knowing that the Twins traded away Arraez, with whom Lopez spent time with at the World Baseball Classic, only made him want to try even harder.
“It made me want to show up and let them know I’m here to try everything I can, everything I have control of, just try as much as I can to go out there and have fun with my teammates,” Lopez said. “I think every day just has been very encouraging how easy the Twins made the transition for me. Every day, I keep raising my own bar just because they encourage me.”
Lining Lopez up for Opening Day should put him on track to make his second start of the season against his former teammates in Miami, something which did not go unnoticed by him. After Lopez kicks things off, Gray will start the second game of the season against the Royals — and likely the home opener, too — and Ryan the finale in Kansas City.
“Pablo’s a guy that’s come in and had such an immediate impact on everyone around here, staff and player alike. I think he’s an extraordinarily talented individual who will rise to that occasion of pitching the first game of the season for us,” Baldelli said. “And he’s nasty.”
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