08/05/2002 6:24 pm ET
At long last, it's a loss for Lopez
By Becky Dubin Jenkins / MLB.com
TORONTO -- The last time Rodrigo Lopez was peppered with questions about what was wrong with his outing, it was June 20, and he had just lost to the Diamondbacks. Joe Torre hadn't even started looking at who would comprise his All-Star Game roster, and the dog days of August baseball were weeks away.
After that, the 26-year-old rolled through his starts, amassing a six-game winning streak and becoming the team's most consistent pitcher. And then came Monday.
Lopez gave up five earned runs in five innings and only four Baltimore batters recorded hits as the Blue Jays beat the O's, 7-1, at SkyDome. The Birds have lost nine of 14 games and 11 of their past 18, and they are 10-14 since the break.
Lopez wasn't in the game from the start -- even though he didn't allow Toronto to score until the third inning.
"He overthrew everything. Everything was up in the strike zone; his slider was flat," manager Mike Hargrove said. "He overthrew everything and paid the price."
He wasn't using his bread-and-butter pitch -- his slider -- with much success, so he resorted to trying to push the ball across the plate with too many fastballs. The Jays noticed and took advantage of the many balls that
crossed the heart of the plate.
"During the bullpen, I didn't feel that good," said Lopez, who muddled through his shortest outing since May 26. "I was overtrying, so I couldn't get loose during the game. But everything happened, and that's because my balls were up. My breaking ball wasn't that effective."
The breaking ball is precisely what has gotten Lopez (12-4, 3.16 ERA) this far this fast. With his 6-0 record in July, he became the first O's player to win six games in a month since Mike Boddicker went 6-1 in May 1984. Lopez also is the first Baltimore pitcher to go 6-0 in a month since Dennis Martinez did it in May 1979.
But Lopez is positive he is not physically or mentally exhausted -- even with the emotionally charged year he has had.
"I don't want to think that because I'm trying to work hard to keep myself in shape," he said. "I don't think it's that. Last year, last summer, I didn't throw many innings. We'll see. I'm going to keep working hard and get
in better shape for next time."
The only offense Orioles pitching received was a home run by Melvin Mora to lead off the game. After that, Jays pitching faced the minimum number of Baltimore batters in the second, fifth, eighth and ninth innings.
Toronto starter Steve Parris (5-2, 3.77) scattered six hits in eight innings, walked two and struck out five.
"There was good pitching by Parris today. I couldn't pick up the ball that well," said Jerry Hairston, who went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. "Maybe it was him; you have to credit him. Every time I thought I could hit it or at least foul it off, but I would swing right through it. You have to credit him. He threw well today."
Hargrove, on the other hand, was frustrated because he thought the O's caught Parris on a bad day.
"Parris made a lot of mistakes today," Hargrove said. "He threw the ball over the plate a lot today, and we just missed it. Whether he had a lot of deception or what, we just missed some good pitches to hit."
About the only highlight of Monday's game for the O's was Chris Richard's return to the field. The left-handed slugger, who was activated from the DL on Wednesday and has served as the team's DH for five games, started at first base. He went 1-for-4, but his best stat of the day was a team-high nine putouts.
Most first basemen typically record several outs, but Richard got to test his surgically repaired left shoulder for the first time. He fielded a routine grounder from Eric Hinske and threw it to Lopez to record the second out of the first inning.
"I was glad to be back out there after all this time," he said.
But Richard's most impressive defensive play came in the sixth inning. With reliever Rick Bauer on the mound and two outs, Hinske again hit a grounder Richard's way. Richard laid out and snared the ball to record the out unassisted.
"My shoulder is fine," Richard said. "I really landed with both my arms out, not all the way on my right shoulder. The only real problem would be throwing from [far] distance.
"Other than that, I feel great [and am] glad to be back."
Hargrove didn't know how often he would use Richard in the field, but because Richard played well and felt no pain, he could be there a few times a week. Also, Jay Gibbons -- who has been filling that spot in place of injured veteran Jeff Conine -- has been experiencing nagging pain in his surgically repaired right wrist. Now, Richard will be able to spell Gibbons on a bad day.
"The only thing is [Richard's] throwing," Hargrove said "And if he throws well, he'll probably play first base on an every-now-and-then basis."
Becky Dubin Jenkins is an editorial producer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.