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Lopez ripped again

Ace's slump reaches six starts as A's bomb Rays 15-2.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published May 31, 2001


OAKLAND -- The difference is slight, literally a matter of inches. But the results have been dramatic and damaging, to Albie Lopez's statistics and his psyche.

In the simplest terms, Lopez has not been able to throw the ball where he wants it to go. Some pitches are too low. Others are too high. And too many, too frequently, end up over too much of the plate, and occasionally over stadium walls.

Lopez has struggled so much, losing five straight decisions and posting a 9.09 ERA along the way, that what was once considered a slump is now a concern. And when it happened again Wednesday, contributing heavily to the Rays' brutal 15-2 loss to the A's, Lopez, the Rays' best pitcher, admitted that he doesn't know what to do next.

photo
[AP photo]
Greg Vaughn wipes his brow during the first inning against the Oakland Athletics on Wednesday.
"My location is off right now," Lopez said. "For some reason, I'm not getting the ball in the location I need it to be. I know it's not lack of effort. I'm trying to figure out what it is. I'll go look tomorrow at video, and if I see something different mechanical-wise, I'll try and fix it.

"My two-seam (fastball) was in the dirt all day, and my four-seamer was belt high all day. You can't win that way."

What makes it all the more frustrating is that the margin, at the most, is a mere 3 or 4 inches. But, Lopez said, "it can be all the difference in the world when you start running into the dead center of the bat."

A couple of Wednesday's collisions were particularly violent. Jason Giambi tied the score with a towering home run in the first, the ball landing in an open suite window -- teachers, break out the protractors -- some 20 feet beyond the 400-foot sign in centerfield and about 50 feet above the ground.

Giambi's success off Lopez wasn't shocking; he is 9-for-14 with four home runs. It was what the rest of the A's did that was a little surprising.

Four hits with two outs in the second, including a Frank Menechino line drive off Lopez's butt, led to four runs in the second. And a three-run home run by Johnny Damon on Lopez's 108th, and final, pitch sealed the game in the fifth.

Of the 28 batters Lopez faced, 12 got hits and three reached on walks. "I think anybody would have gotten hits off me today," Lopez said.

The season began with great promise for Lopez, who is a free agent after the year and has been considered one of the potential gems of the July trade market, with the Rays in line perhaps to land several prospects if they decided to deal rather than sign him.

Lopez won three of his first five starts and was leading the American League with a 1.66 ERA on April 24. Since then, he has gone 0-5 in six starts with a 9.09 ERA.

"What makes me the most angry," Lopez said, "is that I feel like I'm letting the team down. I'm not giving then a chance to win. I don't mind if I give up the runs; I could win 9-8 and be happy. It's that right now I'm not even giving them a chance, and that's what bothers me the most."

Lopez left one game with a groin strain (missing a subsequent start) and another with a bruised thumb, but he insists the injuries are not a factor. Pitching coach Bill Fischer, without any other obvious signs to go on, wasn't as sure.

"He says he is fine, and he does his side work. But they say his thumb's going to be sore for a while," Fischer said. "He's the only one who really knows how he feels. He's a tough son of a gun. He may be trying to perform with it hurting a little more."

The Rays didn't have much else to feel good about, either. Nine hits -- all singles, including three that didn't leave the infield -- off Oakland starter Mark Mulder led only to two runs, and they got only one more hit, another single, over the final four innings.

"Not very much to be said," manager Hal McRae said. "We got a whipping."

By the time it was over, the Rays had allowed 10 or more runs for the 11th time in 52 games. For the 13th time (out of a mere 15 opportunities) they followed a win -- a rather crisp and well-played one Tuesday -- with a loss.

"It seems," McRae said, "like we give it all back."

Albie Lopez W L ERA IP H ER HR
First 5 starts: 3 1 1.66 38 29 7 1
Past 6 starts: 0 5 9.09 33 2/3 51 34 7

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