Eduar Lopez is learning he's not a strikeout pitcher. He's also learning that's not exactly a bad thing.
The Tampa Bay right-hander set a career high with eight innings, allowing three hits and without a walk in Class A Advanced Charlotte's 5-0 win over Jupiter on Monday. He struck out four batters in his second consecutive scoreless start.
Gameday box score
"They're still at the level where strikeouts are sexy, and they feel like that's what's going to get them to the next level," Stone Crabs pitching coach Steve "Doc" Watson said. "We all know it's being able to command pitches with repeatability and get quicker outs, and he's starting to understand that. Once he gets ahead, he may take a shot off the plate, but then he gets right back into the zone."
Lopez (8-7) retired the first nine batters he faced, recording all four of his strikeouts in the first three frames. Jupiter's Corey Bird singled to second base to lead off the fourth, but Lopez induced three straight groundouts to get out of the inning.
The 22-year-old mowed down the next seven batters he faced before a throwing error by first baseman Nathaniel Lowe put a man on first with one out in the seventh, but Lopez got John Silviano and Boo Vazquez to fly out to escape the frame.
"The one thing that's always difficult when you don't give up many hits or walks -- you don't pitch out of the stretch," Watson said. "You get to the fourth or fifth and get to the stretch where you haven't been, and it might take a hitter or two to find your release point. In the fourth and seventh, with the exception of the eighth, were the only times he had to pitch out of the stretch, and he was very consistent where he had to locate his pitches."
Lopez ran into slight trouble in the eighth, allowing a single to center by Justin Twine before erasing him on a double play. Gunner Pollman also singled to center before the native of the Dominican Republic got Cleuluis Rondon to ground out to second, ending his night at 100 pitches.
"If he wouldn't have given up a base hit at the end [of the eighth], we'd have let him go back out for the ninth to see where he would've gotten to. He had the pitches to work with," Watson said. "You've been seeing flashes of what we saw tonight off and on over his last three starts."
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After inducing 1.09 ground balls for every fly ball over his first 17 appearances this season, 12 of which were starts, Lopez has turned a corner with his command over his last five appearances -- four starts and one six-inning outing in relief. He's gotten 54 outs on the ground with only 17 in the air and has been more efficient as well, throwing 433 pitches over his last 34 innings.
"He did two things that we've really been focused on -- commanding his fastball and using his changeup more than he has all year," Watson said. "He recorded 11 outs in three pitches or less and had 16 ground-ball outs, so he really competed at the bottom of the zone. I don't want to say it was an easy effort, but he got to where he got to tonight easily.
"He has a tendency to open up before his foot strikes, and then he'll start to spin and lose some pitches arm-side. Tonight, everything was clean and fluid and had a direct line to the strike zone. He was able to repeat pitches and locations he needed to get to, just being able to get out to his release point consistently and finish over his front side."
Lopez was averaging fewer than five innings per outing after allowing three runs on seven hits over 2 2/3 innings against Florida on July 7. Since then he's averaging 6.8 innings in his last five starts, and Watson explains it's no coincidence he's been able to go deeper into counts.
"There was a conversation about his conditioning. He had to pitch a couple day games and you could see him really starting to tank in the fourth and fifth innings," Watson said. "I think he realized, at that point, there was still a lot of season left. He had nine starts left when we started to really get more serious about him getting in better condition coming into starts and how to better prep himself.
"He's starting to learn more about situational pitching and being more focused between starts ... he's starting to grasp the concept of the game within the game."
Lowe went 3-for-4 with a double and three RBIs to pace the Stone Crabs offense, and left fielder David Olmedo-Barrera added three hits and two RBIs.
Pablo Lopez (0-1) allowed two runs on eight hits and one walk while striking out over 6 1/3 innings.