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Jorge Lopez likely to stick in the bullpen long-term

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Ned Yost thinks the young pitcher can have success as a reliever

MLB: Game Two-New York Yankees at Kansas City Royals Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals sent 26-year old right-handed Jorge Lopez to the bullpen a few weeks ago, arguing that with so many off-days in the schedule, they could afford to skip his turn in the rotation. He returned to the rotation May 25 against the Yankees, and was lit up, giving up five runs in just one inning of work.

Glenn Sparkman, who pitched in long relief in Lopez’s last start, was announced as the starter for tonight’s game against the White Sox. So it looks like Lopez will move back to the bullpen for good, with Ned Yost saying today the move could be long-term.

Lopez pitched two shutout innings in his first relief appearances last Wednesday in St. Louis before his outing aginst the Yankees. In 51 23 innings this year, Lopez has a 6.79 ERA with a 5.75 FIP, although a decent strikeout rate of 8.54 per-nine innings. He has given up four or more runs in eight of his ten starts this year.

The move should not be too surprising. Many have whispered that Lopez may be more effective as a reliever than as a starter. Indeed, his limited Major League numbers show much better numbers coming out of the pen.

Jorge Lopez as a starter/reliever

Jorge Lopez ERA IP K/9 BB/9 Opp. OPS
Jorge Lopez ERA IP K/9 BB/9 Opp. OPS
As a starter 6.63 93.2 7.7 3.3 .883
As a reliever 2.66 23.2 6.5 5.7 .669

You can also see that Lopez is much worse the more hitters see him. The first time he goes through a lineup, hitters have a line of .247/.316/.416. The second time it is .363/.435/.585. The third time, it is .321/.370/.607. Basically, Lopez is making every hitter Mike Trout after they see him once.

As for his replacement, Glenn Sparkman will hold that place in the rotation for now. The 27-year old right-hander tossed seven shutout innings in a start against the Rays back on May 1, and gave up six runs in 13 innnings of work in three starts last year. The Royals could eventually turn back to Heath Fillmyer, who has struggled in Omaha and has given up 15 runs in 15 innings with the Royals this year. Or they could turn to former first-round pick Foster Griffin, who has revived his career with a strong start in Omaha, posting a 3.40 ERA with 45 strikeouts in 50 innings over his first nine starts. The 23-year old left-hander is not on the 40-man roster, so the team would need to make room for him if they called him up. Conner Greene and Josh Staumont are also possibilties, although Staumont has been used more as an “opener” than a traditional starter.

As for Lopez, hopefully he can find more success as a reliever. His 94 mph fastball has not been fooling anyone, so perhaps he can enjoy a velocity bump coming out of the pen. The Royals need to develop some starting pitching if they want this rebuild to accelerate, but it appears Lopez will not be in those plans.