When Milwaukee made Jorge Lopez a second-round pick in the 2011 Draft, they were taking a gamble on a converted shortstop who'd only been pitching for three years, a player with the athleticism to double as one of Puerto Rico's best volleyball prospects.
It's been a work in progress turning Lopez into a professional pitcher for the Brewers, but on Thursday night, he gave a glimpse of what he can offer.
The lanky 6-foot-4 right-hander tossed six hitless innings for Class A Wisconsin, striking out seven and walking five to pick up his first victory as the Timber Rattlers topped the Quad Cities River Bandits, 7-4.
For Lopez (1-3), it was the second-longest start of his career and his deepest outing yet this season. And after surrendering 18 earned runs over 9 1/3 innings in his first three starts, the 20-year-old has yielded just seven in the last 16 innings spanning four outings.
"I'm really, really excited, because the last couple starts, my delivery is getting better. I'm confident with all my pitches," he said. "I feel like the last two starts, I am getting better. I had a couple walks, but that happens in this game."
The seven strikeouts were also a season high for Lopez, who has 25 punchouts in 25 1/3 innings this season. He sports an 8.88 ERA and 18 walks as well, but the 3.94 ERA he's managed to cobble together over his last four outings -- dropping his overall mark from the 17.36 tally it stood at on April 29 -- suggests he's starting to make the progress the Brewers are looking for.
"He's making big strides, from his first outing where he got roughed up a little bit, leaving pitches up in the zone, to now where his mound presence is better. He's trusting his stuff more," Rattlers pitching coach David Chavarria said. "It's just a confidence factor that he knows he belongs, and credit to him, he's putting the work in every day on it. That's the big part. Some guys have a little bit of success and they're feeling comfortable 'cause they had a good outing and they tend to sit back and coast, but this kid keeps working and working and working. We're real happy with his progress."
Lopez tossed just 12 innings in 2011 for the Rookie-level Arizona League Brewers after signing following the Draft. Last season, he pitched between the Dominican Summer League Brewers and back in the AZL, collecting a 5.06 ERA while striking out 46 and walking 22 in 48 innings.
His early results this year weren't ideal, but weren't surprising for a young arm trying to redevelop his delivery and mechanics while getting the most out of his raw stuff.
"Overall, we're trying to make his delivery more compact, more streamlined, where everything is going toward home plate, and of course, just trying to get him into a proper routine," said Chavarria. "It's a big jump for some of these kids when they come up from Arizona or wherever. We're working with them on trusting the process. It's gonna be bumpy at times, but that's basically just the normal stuff.
"Tonight it took a little bit for him to realize why we were taking him out. then he realized, but that's the look you want from a guy, to want to go out there and have the mentality to finish what he started. Tonight he had that look a little bit in his eye. It was a big stepping stone for him to build on."
Victor Roache, Milwaukee's No. 7 prospect, smacked his fifth homer, doubled, plated two and scored twice to lead the Wisconsin offense.