High-five for Storm Chasers' Lopez

Royals No. 7 prospect ties career high with five-hit night

Nicky Lopez recorded Omaha's first five-hit game since Whit Merrifield on Aug. 14, 2014. (Minda Haas Kuhlmann/Omaha Storm Chasers)

By Vincent Lara-Cinisomo / MiLB.com | July 28, 2018 1:53 AM

When you get five hits in a game, it doesn't matter who the fifth hit came against.

That's how Nicky Lopez felt Friday.

The Royals' seventh-ranked prospect tied his career high with five hits -- the fifth coming against infielder Antonio Nunez -- to lead Triple-A Omaha to a 15-4 thumping of Fresno at Chukchansi Park.

"Usually, you know when a position player is pitching, but that guy wasn't any ordinary position player," Lopez said. "He was throwing 95 [mph] with some sink. I turned to the other guys and I said, 'He's done this before.'"

Video: Five hits for Omaha's Lopez

It was the second five-hit game of the season for the 23-year-old infielder. He completed the cycle while going 5-for-6 for Double-A Northwest Arkansas on June 21.

After batting .250/.368/.275 in 22 games in April, the Naperville, Illinois, native has caught fire. He hit .367/.408/.458 in 30 games in May and put up a .358/.413/.494 slash line in June. In July, he's hitting .333 (32-for-96).

"Just starting off slow, maybe it was a blessing in disguise," he said. "Coming off the Arizona Fall League, I had all the confidence, but it's baseball. And then I kind of started off slow and I had to persevere through it.

"Learning that and getting through and you realize, 'I belong on this field.' It showed that baseball is a game of confidence, and you have the support of family and friends. I am kind of happy that I went through that. It gave me those times that I had to do those adjustments."

Gameday box score

The 2016 fifth-round pick wasted no time Friday. Batting second, he grounded a single to left field in the first innings that sent Billy Burns to third. Burns scored on a fielder's choice by Elier Hernandez.

In the second, the left-handed hitter pulled a double to right, then yanked a grounder into right for a single in the fourth. Lopez walked in the fifth and singled home Luis Villegas in the sixth. On his first shot at a fifth hit, he grounded out in the eighth. But thanks to Omaha's season-high 23-hit attack, he knew he'd get another chance.e

Down by 11 runs, Fresno turned to Nunez, who pitched once this season without retiring a batter. The Brooklyn native, drafted in the 18th round in 2014 out of Western Oklahoma State Junior College, walked three in that first outing. On Friday, he allowed a hit and walk but impressed Lopez.

In fact, Nunez and Buddy Boshers were the only Grizzlies pitchers to escape unscathed. Starter Brock Dykxhoorn (5-2) took the loss after giving up six runs on 12 hits in 3 2/3 innings.

MiLB include

Jack Lopez -- no relation -- had a double and two singles for Omaha, while Burns, Hernandez and Frank Schwindel also had three hits apiece. Schwindel doubled twice and drove in three runs to back Arnaldo Hernandez (2-0), who allowed four runs on six hits in five innings for the win.

But the focus was Lopez, whose eye is clearly on reaching the Majors this season. He couldn't help but notice the trade of Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas to Milwaukee as well as rumors surrounding second baseman Whit Merrifield.

"As a young player, my dream for my whole life is to get to the big leagues," he said. "I set out goals this year to get to Triple-A, and now the ultimate goal is the Majors. Some people get traded away and you say, 'I'm not that far.'

"That's why we play the game. I think I can help the team win now, and it would be the ultimate goal to live out my dream. It's not too far away. People always say you can smell it, and that's actually true. When you see people get moved, up and down, you realize you're close."

Vince Lara-Cinisomo is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @vincelara. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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