Mets reliever Jorge Lopez can be 'as electric as anyone in the game'

PORT ST. LUCIE -- When Mets folks talk about Jorge Lopez, they tend to strike two notes: That he has some of the most electric pure stuff in baseball, and that he has built up more emotional strength to handle adversity than nearly anyone.

Lopez, a key element to the Mets’ plans to be sneaky contenders, was an All-Star closer for Baltimore in 2022, then bombed in ‘23, posting a 5.95 ERA for three teams. It was enough of a struggle to land Lopez on the 15-day injured list for mental health reasons -- but it was far from the most serious challenge he has faced.

Lopez’s son, Mikael, was born with two autoimmune diseases, familial Mediterranean fever and Crohn’s disease. He spent the better part of his first decade in children’s hospitals, and finally saw his health improve after a bone marrow transplant in 2021.

Lopez has long since become accustomed to performing in competition while carrying around the deep worry of a parent with a struggling child. Last year was even more difficult, as he was moving around the league and not living with Mikael.

“Mikael was born in 2013, so I’ve had to take care of that since the minor leagues,” Lopez says. “He got a bone marrow transplant, and it helped him. There are still things to work on with him. That was one of the biggest things for me last year, that I didn’t have him.”

From a baseball standpoint, Lopez is settling in nicely with the Mets, who he says are treating him “like a family.” He is honest about the fact that his performance last year wasn’t easily explained, but he knows it wasn’t a physical issue.

“My struggles last year were really different from where I used to be,” Lopez says. “My walks didn’t help me. My velo wasn’t down. It was the same, but I just couldn’t get people out.

“I couldn’t say that the struggle was because of this or that. I attacked guys, but to put away guys, that 0-2, 1-2 pitch where you want to at least receive weak contact, I couldn’t get it consistent like I did in 2022. I’m a ground ball pitcher with [high] ground ball percent, but they were just getting through the infield.”

Sep 5, 2023; Anaheim, California, USA; Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Jorge Lopez (73) is relieved against the Los Angeles Angels during the seventh inning at Angel Stadium.

Mets infielder Joey Wendle, who has faced Lopez more than any other player on the roster (8-for-22) -- and who played with Lopez last year in Miami -- has his own ideas of what makes Lopez dominate or struggle.

“Command is definitely one of the big things,” Wendle says. “And also conviction of his pitches, and that comes with command. When you’re jumping out ahead in the count, you can throw your other offspeed pitches with more confidence. The stuff is obviously there, but when you’re falling early in the count, and then you have to come in the zone and you’re catching too much of the plate -- even with the plus stuff, it’s going to get hit at this level. When he’s really good it’s when he’s getting ahead early, and the hitters don’t know what’s coming. Then he can feel free to expand the zone a little bit.

“Everybody saw what was capable of two years ago, and as far as I’m aware the stuff isn’t any different. And when a player gets to another organization, they can see something [new]. So that part is exciting, as well."

Francisco Lindor, who has two hits in seven career at-bats against Lopez, adds, “The fastball is electric, and he has the potential for two plus secondary pitches. He can have the breaking ball -- slider, curveball - and he’s got a changeup as well. When those two breaking pitches are on, he can be as electric as anyone in the game. A really good arm.”

So what, then, is the difference between All-Star Lopez and struggling Lopez?

“Location,” Lindor says. “If he locates, he’s as good as anybody.”