DENVER -- Rockies right-handed relief pitcher Wilton Lopez posted impressive numbers for the Astros from 2009-12. Although he struggled for much of the first half of this year with the Rockies, he insists pitching for a team with contending is a benefit more than a source of pressure.
"The pitching is the same, whether it's the Astros or here, but one thing I do know is I feel a lot more relaxed, I've got a lot more energy and I'm a lot more excited," Lopez, a native of Nicaragua, said in Spanish, translated by Joe Diaz, the Rockies' assistant clubhouse manager and equipment manager.
"I love having a chance to get to the postseason. This is a good energy. The most important thing is I feel relaxed. I just need to control my pitch right now."
Wednesday night was a start toward Lopez becoming the groundball-inducing, late-innings stalwart that the Rockies thought they were getting in a trade with the Astros during the winter. Lopez threw a 90-mph, inside sinker that broke the bat of the Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton and forced an inning-ending grounder with the bases loaded.
The Marlins had loaded the bases with no outs against Edgmer Escalona, but Escalona fanned Adieny Hechevarria with the count full and Josh Outman struck out Christian Yelich. To put the inning down, manager Walt Weiss went to Lopez, who had spent some time in the first half pitching in non-pressure roles because of inconsistency that had his ERA at 4.57 on July 11.
Wednesday was the first time Lopez pitched in a close game that the Rockies won since he recorded one out in a 2-1 victory over the Giants on June 29.
Lopez's groundball rate had never gone below 1.74 per fly ball in his career, but this year it's just 1.13, counting Stanton's inning-ender. Lopez didn't shy away from pitching. He led the relief staff in appearances with 49 going into Thursday afternoon's game with the Marlins. But he admitted his struggles weighed on him.
"The first half didn't go like I wanted it to, but games like last night help out my confidence," Lopez said. "The All-Star break was big mentally for me, to take those three or four gays off to rest. This is the first time in my career that I have struggled. So during the break, I stayed home with my family and got a fresh start."
Lopez (1-3, 4.25 ERA) has made three scoreless appearances since the break, and manager Walt Weiss believes he handled the struggles well and is in a good place.
"He's a tough kid," Weiss said. "He always wants the ball, always wants to go out for another inning. He never shies away from it. Even when he had some struggles early, the guy would campaign to go out for another inning. He loves to pitch, loves to compete, is very durable."
Catcher Yorvit Torrealba said, "I think he's pounding the strike zone, which is very good."
Weiss and Torrealba both noted that Lopez's sinker might be more effective at 90 mph than his top-end velocity of 94. Lopez, who also has helped his performance by employing his slider, said he doesn't believe velocity helps or hampers him.
"My sinker is my best pitch," Lopez said. "When I throw it, it doesn't matter if it's 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, I can get the same sink on it. When I let it go, sometimes it will come out 90, sometimes it'll come out 93 or 94. That really doesn't matter if the ball sinks well enough."
Pomeranz likely headed to DL; McHugh to start
DENVER -- The Rockies are expected to start right-hander Collin McHugh on Saturday night against the Brewers and place lefty Drew Pomeranz on the 15-day disabled list with left shoulder soreness.
McHugh, obtained from the Mets for outfielder Eric Young Jr. on June 18, was scratched from his scheduled start Thursday for Triple-A Colorado Springs. He is 4-2 with a 2.94 ERA combined for Triple-A Las Vegas and Colorado Springs.
Pomeranz was seen with his left shoulder heavily bandaged on Sunday. On Monday, he lasted just 4 1/3 innings and 78 pitches of a loss to the Marlins. Pomeranz (0-4, 8.10 ERA in four starts) insisted Thursday morning that he was not in pain, but the Rockies wanted to wait until after his bullpen session before making a decision about the start.
The Rockies are expected to make an official announcement on Friday.
McHugh, 26, made three appearances, including one start, with the Mets before the trade (0-1, 10.29 ERA). He went 0-4 with a 7.29 ERA in eight games, including four starts, for the Mets last season. His best start came in his Major League debut last Aug. 23 at Citi Field, when he held the Rockies to two hits and struck out nine in seven innings of an eventual 1-0 Rockies victory.
But McHugh spent most of the first part of this season at Las Vegas, where he was 3-2 with a 2.87 ERA before the trade. The Rockies sent him to Double-A Tulsa, where he was 1-1 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts, before bringing him to Colorado Springs, where he went 1-0 with a 3.18 ERA in three starts.
The time between now and when Pomeranz throws his next Major League pitch will give him time to gain confidence. Pomeranz had encouraging work at Colorado Springs, but hasn't made it past 4 1/3 innings in any of his big league starts.
"In my bullpen sessions, I'm just trying to feel comfortable, throw strikes and not get too complicated," Pomeranz said Thursday morning.
Communication key for Arenado in infield
DENVER -- Reaction overtook reason for Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado on Wednesday night.
The Marlins' Donovan Solano hit a fourth-inning bouncer between Arenado and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Arenado quickly ranged to his left, grabbed the ball and made a full spin to throw to first base.
"It was funny," Arenado said. "We usually communicate or I look where he's at, but I didn't yesterday. That play came, and when I spun, I could see Tulo like [Arenado imitated Tulowitzki in position, glove ready]. He could have caught it and made a nice little throw."
It's just part of the learning curve for Arenado, who, like Tulowitzki, has greater range than the average player at his position. Even with the occasional overlap, for which Arenado said he apologized to Tulowitzki for, they've formed a left side of the infield that is always a threat to rob hitters. Arenado said usually communication on the field with Tulowitzki and other teammates has helped him.
"Everyone says that when you cover a lot of ground, it's easier, but you've got to communicate," Arenado said. "If we don't communicate, I'm going to overlap him or take his stuff when it's an easy, routine play for him, or he comes over to my area. It's been fun knowing I have him over there.
"When I first see it, I think I can get it, I'm going to go. But if I know where he is, I can let it go. He calls me off a lot, which is good. Sometimes I listen, sometimes I don't. But it's getting better."
Weiss knows CarGo's K's come with territory
DENVER -- Rockies slugging outfielder Carlos Gonzalez entered Thursday afternoon tied with the Pirates' Pedro Alvarez for the National League home runs lead with 26 and leading in slugging percentage at .598, but also fourth in the league with 113 strikeouts.
With Gonzalez delivering a home run once every 14.5 at-bats, manager Walt Weiss is not bent out of shape about the strikeout total in and of itself.
"The number of strikeouts for me isn't the factor," Weiss said. "And CarGo knows this. It's about when they come. Let's face it: The guys that hit the ball a mile, like CarGo can, are going to strike out. It's the length [of the swing] and all that stuff. It comes with the territory.
"He knows that there are times when he needs to put the ball in play. He did [Tuesday night in a 4-2 loss to the Marlins] when he hit the ground ball and got the RBI. He's trying to do that. There's an awareness in those situations, where if he makes an out, then make a productive out. He's talked about it, to me and to Dante [Bichette, the hitting coach]. That was one of Dante's main points in the spring.
"He's done that at times, and if you ask him, he'd say he'd like to put the ball in play more in those at-bats."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.