Already near top of his game, for Twins pitching ace Pablo López, the work never stops

He was prepared that October day to be pitching the biggest game of his life in front of a raucous, sold-out crowd at Minute Maid Park in Houston. He was ready to try to pitch the Twins to the American League Championship Series for the first time since 2002.

Instead, he was in Tempe, Ariz., with sensors affixed to his body, tracking his every movement as he threw at the Driveline facility in front of a handful of people. The Twins’ season ended on a Wednesday, and a day later, López was flying down to the Phoenix area for his end-of-season assessment at the data-driven performance center.

The pitcher, who celebrated his 28th birthday on Thursday, first visited Driveline the previous offseason. He saw all kinds of year-over-year improvements in his end-of-season assessment, in everything from higher jumps to his trunk rotation speeds, giving him confidence in the work he had been putting in.

For the Twins’ pitching ace, the work really never stopped. After an October trip to Switzerland with his wife, Kaylee, he plunged headfirst into his Driveline workouts, spending the offseason looking to build off one of the best seasons of his career. López, who most importantly stayed healthy the entire season, threw nearly 200 innings, struck out a career-high 234 batters (tied for third in the majors) and posted a 3.66 earned-run average in his 32 starts.

Driveline gave him workouts to break his offseason up into three different phases: strength, explosiveness and then a deload to lead into spring training to make sure he arrived feeling athletic, and López got to work.

The work in the training room was in addition to the work he did on the mound, where he focused in on how he could improve against left-handed batters — last year they hit .271 against him with a .754 OPS compared to righties, who hit .206 with a .597 OPS — and working on understanding his five-pitch arsenal and how each pitch complements the others.

Last year, the Twins helped López introduce a sweeper after a January trade that sent him to Minnesota for Luis Arraez. He quickly introduced that pitch in game action, but given an offseason to toy with it, he’s been learning more about how to best utilize his offerings.

“With the new pitch, I was able to really (be like), ‘OK, I’m going to use this bullpen to work on how can I throw my breaking pitches in an 0-0 count with the same conviction as I would throw them in an 0-2 count,’” López said.

He’s been doing that this spring, too, experimenting with his pitch mix to ensure he can throw what he wants when he wants where he wants.

And come later this month, when López takes the ball on Opening Day, the Twins expect to see the best version of the starter, whom they expect to lead their rotation for years to come.

“When you see a guy whose desire and pursuit of perfection is at a certain level like his, it doesn’t get any better than that,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “As long as you’re seeing the same level of motivation from him, he gives you everything else. His motivation is at the top of the scale. … He sets a pretty incredible example for really everybody here.”

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