Rodrigo Lopez impresses in Cubs’ Cactus opener
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org March 4, 2012 10:52PM
Right-hander Rodrigo Lopez made a case for a spot in the Cubs’ rotation after recording six consecutive outs in his spring debut. | Jim Prisching~AP
Updated: April 6, 2012 8:13AM
MESA, Ariz. — Remember me?
That seemed to be Rodrigo Lopez’s message when the veteran right-hander took an impressive first shot at winning one of the two open starting spots during the Cubs’ Cactus League opener Sunday against the Oakland Athletics.
Having tightened his slider with the help of one-time minor-league pitching coach Rick Sutcliffe, Lopez didn’t allow a ball out of the infield in a six-up, six-down spring debut.
It’s early but impressive said manager Dale Sveum, who remembers a swing-and-miss slider when Lopez was winning 14 and 15 games for Baltimore in 2004 and ’05.
Lopez, who went 6-6 with a 4.42 ERA with the Cubs after being acquired from Atlanta in a minor-league trade, hasn’t drawn much attention in a rotation battle that also includes Randy Wells, Chris Volstad, Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood.
But that could change quickly. Sveum said Sunday, ‘‘He’s definitely in the mix.’’
Lopez was re-signed to a minor-league deal that pays him about $900,000 if he makes the team.
“I haven’t been looking much in the newspaper of TV,’’ he said. “I don’t want to think about what’s going to happen or who I’m battling against. I just want to go out there and do my thing. Since I signed here I’ve been battling for a spot, regardless of whether they mention me or not.’’
Samardzija, who starts Wednesday against Kansas City, is turning into one of the most intriguing story lines in camp, with the new staff raving about the quality of his work.
“We all know that’s going to be a huge, huge thing come about March 25 [when decisions start to get made],’’ Sveum said, “because the way he’s throwing, it’s hard to think that anybody’s going to hit him all that good. He’s throwing the heck out of the ball and he’s on a mission to win one of those spots.’’
Samardzija went 8-4 with a 2.97 ERA last season, pitching 88 innings of relief, his best season by far.
One difference with this camp is the way pitching coach Chris Bosio and the staff are building up pitch counts quickly in bullpen sessions and batting practice (50-plus), then dropping the limit to 35 for first starts in games. “We built them up pretty good to try to stay away from the dead arm guys get in spring training,’’ Sveum said, “and then you just back them way down and start right back up from scratch again.’’
◆ Lost in the middle of a long, high-scoring game was the encouraging 1-2-3 inning pitched by closer Carlos Marmol, who spent much of last season battling command on his way to 10 blown saves, worst in the majors.