A day before Jorge López made his first start for the Orioles, bullpen coach Darren Holmes detailed the simplifications he and pitching coach Doug Brocail had made to the right-hander’s delivery after he arrived as a waiver claim from the Kansas City Royals.
They lowered his hands. They worked to get him to drive more directly toward home plate. As Brocail later put it, they “wanted to take the noise out of his delivery.” Holmes followed the description of what they had done with a belief of what it could lead to.
“We really think he could be a top-three starter for us,” Holmes said last month.
The early returns haven’t lined up. López ended his season and his first audition for a spot in the Orioles' 2021 rotation by allowing eight runs in two innings in Friday’s loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. The outing followed consecutive quality starts against two other playoff-bound clubs, including his limiting the hot-hitting Atlanta Braves to one run over seven innings last week.
He took the mound Friday with a 3.95 ERA as an Orioles starter. He ended the night with that mark at 6.14.
“I feel like I have to keep improving,” López said. "I’m not even close. I feel like I’ve had really good starts, the last couple. This outing, every outing, I’ve been trying to show how I can be consistent. It’s something I have to keep proving next year when I come back to spring training. Good thing I showed them I’m capable of being healthy the whole year. I know I need to show more to improve. I can be that consistent guy.
“You never know, man. I feel like I’m happy with the organization, with the opportunity they give me, and hopefully, next year, I’ll come back.”
Given the impending roster shuffle as the Orioles add players to their 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 draft, there’s no assurance for López, who ends 2020 with an overall ERA of 6.69. In 2019 All-Star John Means, veteran Alex Cobb, and effective rookies Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer, the Orioles might already have four of their 2021 rotation spots filled.
But manager Brandon Hyde expressed confidence in what the Orioles have in López even after his rough 2021 finale.
“I like the adjustments that he’s made since he’s gotten here,” Hyde said. "I thought tonight wasn’t his night, but I felt like he’s made some really good starts for us. We do like his stuff. I’ve talked a lot about it, but I like the mid-90s sinker, curveball mix. I think he can get better.
“It’s unfortunate that he ends his season with this start because I feel like there’s been a lot of positives that he’s shown the past month.”
López said it’s possible he plays winter ball in an effort to make the changes he’s made with the Orioles stick. He also wants to add more life to his fastball, a pitch Hyde has repeatedly expressed excitement about.
“I came here as a student, and they are my teachers,” López said. "I didn’t know how good I could be with the little things they can show me to get better every day. Those things, it’s not about anything [with my] pitches. It was more about how I can [have] consistency of my mechanics. Those little things, it helped me a lot to get confidence and keep my strong mentality game by game.
“Overall, I’m really happy with everything I’ve been doing. It’s a lesson. This game, you can think of the stats and everything like that. It just pushes me to keep working hard on the little things and just get back to next year.”