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No longer daydreaming, Lopez wakes up, earns afternoon win

Rodrigo Lopez is not an early riser.

At 11 a.m., he would rather be throwing off bedsheets than putting on his uniform.

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That might explain why coming into yesterday's matinee against the Minnesota Twins, Lopez was 3-10 with a 6.64 ERA in 21 career day appearances.

"I just don't like early games," Lopez said. "I like to get up at 10 or 11, so early games screw up my sleeping time."

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Lopez pitched like he was short on sleep at the start of yesterday's game, getting banged around in the early going. But the second-year starter settled down in the fourth, pitched into the seventh, and got his fifth win of the year in the Orioles' 5-3 victory.

After pitching six strong innings in a win over the Boston Red Sox on Saturday, Lopez has a two-game winning streak for the first time since reeling off six in a row last July during his 15-win rookie season. The 27-year old right-hander - who suffered a rocky first half that included a stint on the disabled list - has six quality starts in his past eight outings and is quietly returning to form.

"It has been a tough year," said Lopez, who improved to 5-6. "I am still working on my consistency, and I think I have to do a little bit better day by day."

On an afternoon when an overcast sky threatened a downpour at any moment, it looked like the Twins were going to burst open the floodgates against Lopez.

He gave up a double to Corey Koskie and a two-run homer to Torii Hunter in the second. In the third, he yielded four straight hard hits, but some good defense - catcher Robert Machado gunning down Luis Rivas on a stolen base attempt in particular - limited the damage in that inning to one run.

"He was just rushing everything real quick and not getting his arm into a good position," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "Every breaking ball he threw up there was waist high and just rolled in there."

The Orioles' four-run fourth inning gave Lopez a 5-3 lead and time to rid himself of visions of another disastrous daytime outing.

"I said to myself, 'Stop that, don't get panicked. Your arm is good, just try to stay focused,' " Lopez said. "Then I started to attack the strike zone and started to feel much better."

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In his last 3 2/3 innings, he gave up only two hits and had two 1-2-3 frames. He came out with two outs in the seventh after allowing a bloop single to Rivas.

"He battled today, he really battled," Hargrove said. "As the game got on, he got himself more under control."

The same could be said for Lopez's season.

After he went 0-3 with a 7.31 ERA in his first five starts, a strained oblique muscle suffered May 1 against the Detroit Tigers forced him onto the DL for six weeks.

Lopez returned in the middle of June, and since July 1 he has only had two poor starts. He has four wins in his past eight starts, and could have more. On July 6, the bullpen blew a 3-1 lead against the Toronto Blue Jays to cost him a win, and in his next start he found himself on the wrong end of a pitchers' duel with the Oakland Athletics' Tim Hudson.

Lopez sports a 3.98 ERA since the beginning of July, and that is skewed by two rough outings at the hands of the Texas Rangers and Toronto at the end of last month. Both of those were day games.

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"The thing I don't like is getting up early," Lopez said. "But I got the win today."

"I am starting to feel better," he said. "My confidence is there, and I think I can do a little bit better that what I am doing now."

Just let him get his sleep.


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