Yoan Lopez said the past 24 hours for him have been fairly normal. He slept for eight hours and had a few decent meals. The only difference is that he’s now in the big leagues.
Lopez has had an impressive season in the Southern League, where he posted a 2.92 ERA with 87 strikeouts in 61 2/3 innings. He had been especially dominant recently, giving up just one earned run in August and over his final 17 innings while holding batters to an .074 average (4 for 54).
“It was a new look and it’s electric stuff that we feel like can come here and compete and get big outs,” manager Torey Lovullo said. “It was a new opportunity to see something totally different. The one thing I spoke to him about is that he needs to continue to be himself.
“He knows what his strengths are and he needs to remember that and not try to do too much. I think that’s a natural tendency for a young pitcher to do. We already know what he can do and we want to see how special that is.”
Lopez has the potential to be an overpowering late-inning arm. He has a fastball that touches the high-90s to go along with a wipeout slider.
His ascension to the majors has been an odyssey of sorts. Signed out of Cuba in January 2015, Lopez twice left his Double-A team without permission, one time in each of his first two professional seasons. He told the organization the second time he was considering walking away from the game before reconsidering.
The Diamondbacks spent more than $16 million to sign him – $8 million in a signing bonus plus another $8 million in penalties – and, as a result, had their spending power in Latin America limited for the next two signing periods.
“I’m just happy to be here,” Lopez said through Martin Bater, the club’s Spanish-language interpreter. “The first people I told were my agent and my family.”
Lopez said that he’s feeling “very happy and full of hope” while remaining focused on the task at hand. He said he met with Lovullo and is prepared to pitch in however he can.
“I talked to Torey and my role is going to be to help this team make the postseason in whatever shape of form is needed,” Lopez said. “I am confident that we can make it there together. I will be ready to step up whenever Torey calls upon me.
“Just happy and a little bit anxious for that moment to arrive when I make my debut.”
Originally, the Diamondbacks saw Lopez as a potential top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. That didn’t work out, but Lopez appears to have found his footing since shifting to the bullpen last season.
Lopez notched 12 saves this season in 17 chances but finished his Double-A campaign with six consecutive saves after July 1. He posted a 2.01 ERA after the All-Star break and struck out 41 hitters in 31 1/3 innings.
Lovullo, who reiterated on Monday that he intends to keep Brad Boxberger in the closer role, said he is not yet sure where Lopez will slot in but that he will try to give him a “soft landing” to start.
“He’s here to contribute,” Lovullo said. “He’s going to get the baseball and perform and help us get some outs.”
Because Lopez was not on the 40-man roster prior to his promotion, the Diamondbacks transferred third baseman Jake Lamb to the 60-day disabled list as he recovers from surgery done to repair a left rotator cuff strain. Lopez will need to be added to the 40-man roster in order to be brought to the majors.
If Lopez had not been promoted to the majors by November this year, he would have been eligible for the Rule 5 draft.
“It’s a great story,” Lovullo said. “From getting to the United States to play and migrating through our system to find himself in the big leagues … it’s a well-deserved honor. He’s somebody that came into the system with a huge arm.
“I think he’s learned how to pitch over the last few seasons. He’s been lights-out and is maturing into what he had hoped.”