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How to describe Pablo López in Twins camp? Sucí.

FORT MYERS, FLA. – More than 24 hours after Pablo López faced hitters in a live batting practice session Thursday, several players and coaches were still raving about what they watched.

"Who? Pablo?" Carlos Correa said in the Twins clubhouse Friday when he overheard a conversation about a pitcher throwing to hitters a few lockers over. "He's nasty."

López isn't sneaking up on anybody. He is the ace of the Twins staff and finished seventh in the American League Cy Young Award voting last year. All his teammates know how good of a pitcher he is. He still left them in awe.

There was a mix of Twins players and coaches huddled behind home plate as Correa, Royce Lewis, Edouard Julien and Christian Vázquez took turns with their simulated at-bats. Most of López's pitches earned some commentary. "Nasty" and "gross" were often the words of choice. "You know what they call that in Spanish?" special assistant LaTroy Hawkins said after López completed his session. "Sucí. Filthy."

At this point in camp last year, López was learning a new pitch — a sweepy slider — that helped deliver the best season of his career. Opposing hitters whiffed on 37% of their swings vs. the pitch, according to StatCast, and had a .173 batting average against it. This winter, he said, was about perfecting it.

"Last year, with the pitch being new, I was mainly focusing on this is the movement I want," he said. "I didn't have the time to focus on: I want to throw it on this side of the plate and that side of the plate, behind in the count, even counts. That was my main focus this offseason."

Few righthanded starting pitchers, particularly ones who throw four-seam fastballs, choose to throw sweepy sliders to lefthanded hitters. They have other pitches, like changeups, curveballs and cutters, to combat lefties. López bucked that trend last year, unafraid to throw them to hitters in either batter's box.

López threw one of his sweepers to Julien in one of their live batting practice matchups, then followed it with a changeup that dotted the opposite corner of the strike zone on the next pitch. A day later, Julien said, "If that's not midseason form, then he's pretty good."

"It looked like between a cutter and a slider," Julien said of the sweeper. "It was hard and sharp, and it was a late break. It was a good pitch. It's not like the one where you can see the shape going in. It goes straight and then goes in, you know what I mean? It's not a big sweeper. It's quick."

It's one thing for López to work on his sweeper in bullpen sessions during the winter where he visualizes where he wants pitches. What he likes about the simulated at-bats in live batting practice is the feedback he receives from his teammates.

"The best thing you can hear is everything moves late," López said. "When you hear about big curveballs, you hear about a hump. Oh, it popped out of his hand. With sweepers, sliders, there is a side hump. You can tell sometimes it comes out of the hand a little slower. You want everything to look tight. You want everything to look the same. Then at the end, it does a turn and what it's supposed to do."

During the 2023 season, righthanded hitters produced a .597 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) against López. Lefties, as expected against a righthanded pitcher, fared better, with a .754 OPS.

If lefthanded hitters must respect López's sweeper more than they did last year, maybe it changes the way they approach at-bats against him.

"I wouldn't even try to prepare for that [sweeper]," Julien said, shaking his head. "If I tried to look for a slider, a changeup, the four-seam and a curveball, he could do anything with me."

Before the start of spring training, López attended a Caribbean Series game between Venezuela and Dominican Republic in Miami, which features the champions from winter ball leagues. After the two countries squared off in the World Baseball Classic last year, he knew it would be a fun atmosphere.

It was electric, he said. Big plays led to thunderous ovations. Fans from both countries hung onto every pitch.

"I was sitting in the stands, like, 'this is right here,'" López said. "I can't wait to be on that mound in an environment like that. People cheering and playing games that matter for the fans and everyone. Right before spring training, I needed it to be like, 'Man, it's happening.'"