Patrick Magee

World Baseball Classic gives Shuckers’ Jorge Lopez a lift for ‘17

Puerto Rico starting pitcher Jorge Lopez delivers against Mexico in a World Baseball Classic game in Guadalajara, Mexico on March 11. Lopez is in his third stint with the Biloxi Shuckers.
Puerto Rico starting pitcher Jorge Lopez delivers against Mexico in a World Baseball Classic game in Guadalajara, Mexico on March 11. Lopez is in his third stint with the Biloxi Shuckers. Associated Press

Biloxi Shuckers right-hander Jorge Lopez has pitched in the majors and was the Milwaukee Brewers’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2015, but his experience in the World Baseball Classic this spring may rank above all other accolades up to this point.

Lopez was twice the starting pitcher for his native Puerto Rico during the team’s 7-0 run through the WBC to reach the title game against the U.S.

He finished 1-0 with a 3.86 ERA in two appearances. He picked up the win in a 9-4 victory over Mexico in the first round in Mexico and did not figure into the decision in a 4-3 win over the Netherlands in the semifinals at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

“It was something I’m never going to forget,” Lopez said. “Not only what happened on the field, but how great of a union we had. My family, everybody was watching that. Having that happiness on the field, every time out on the field. It was something I’m never going to forget.”

Everything stopped on the Carribean island when the the team took the field during the WBC.

For a U.S. territory mired in debt, the World Baseball Classic provided the distraction it so badly needed. Lopez and his teammates dyed their hair blonde as a sign of unity and rallied around the idea of representing their fellow Puerto Ricans.

The 8-0 loss to the U.S. in the title game was a disappointing outcome, but the team’s star catcher, Yadier Molina, put it all perspective for Lopez and his teammates.

“He told us that we spent two weeks together and had so much fun,” Lopez said. “We failed, but we’ve got to think positive. We’re still winning with the people in Puerto Rico, for the sport.”

Turnaround

If his first start of 2017 at Double-A is any indication, Lopez’s experience in the WBC may have been just what he needed coming off a disappointing 2016 campaign split between Biloxi and Triple-A Colorado Springs.

Lopez lasted six innings in a 5-3 win at Montgomery Friday night, striking out seven and and walking none while allowing six hits.

Those stats are a great sign after he went 3-11 with a 5.78 ERA in 25 games last year. He was 1-7 with a 6.87 ERA in 17 starts at the hitter-friendly ballpark in Colorado Springs.

Lopez was outstanding at Biloxi in 2015, going 12-5 with a 2.26 ERA in 24 starts.

The 6-foot-3 Lopez showed big league stuff that season at MGM Park and he got the late call up to Milwaukee. He was 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA in two starts for the Brewers.

Offseason work

The signs of a turnaround for Lopez began to emerge in winter ball in Puerto Rico following the 2016 season. It was his performance there that helped convince PR manager Edwin Rodriguez that he could factor into the starting rotation for the WBC.

“I threw in winter ball, fixing my deliver,” Lopez said. “It was just trusting myself and I came to spring training trying to do the same thing. I had a couple of games where I lost my fastball command and secondary pitch. The thing now is I’m trying to get my confidence, be positive all the time.”

Lopez was helped by getting the chance to work with the game’s best defensive catcher, Molina, during the WBC. He was also surrounded by some of the game’s bright young stars like Carlos Correa, Javier Baez and Francisco Lindor.

“I spent a lot of time with those guys,” Lopez said. “You feel like those guys will spend 15-20 years in the big leagues. They’ll probably be hall of famers.”

If Lopez takes advantage of his third stint in Biloxi, he’ll likely find himself back in the big leagues with many of his Puerto Rico teammates.

Patrick Magee: 228-896-2333, @Patrick_Magee

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