Contender pins bullpen hope on former KC Royals hurler

Jorge López is joining Baltimore for the second time.

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It will be five years this Friday since an exciting but mercurial young pitcher put his KC Royals teammates and fans on the edge of their collective seats. Turning in one of the best pitching performances in club history, Jorge López took a perfect game against Minnesota into the ninth inning before losing it, and a no-hitter, with a lead-off walk and single to begin the final frame.

The Royals won that Sept. 8, 2018, game to give López, traded to Kansas City by Milwaukee just weeks before as part of the deal that sent Mike Moustakas to the Brewers, his second Kansas City win. Unfortunately, and despite stuff that ranks among the best ever possessed by any Royal pitcher, López's time with the club ended on the waiver wire two seasons later.

By then, López had become a mystery, a frustrating pitching puzzle who could be excellent one game and bad the next; so inconsistent was his work that every appearance seemed like a perilous adventure. He was 6-13 with a 6.42 ERA in parts of three seasons with the Royals when then-struggling Baltimore plucked him off the wire only days into the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign.

The righthander struggled as a starter that season and the next before the Orioles rolled the dice and moved him to their bullpen last year; the gamble paid off handsomely as López saved 19 games and was sailing along with a a 1.68 ERA before July ended. But the O's, clearly seeking to capitalize on his suddenly increased value, shipped him to Minnesota before the trade deadline passed. He went 4-3, 4.81 in 60 games for the Twins before they traded him to Miami this summer, then 2-0, 9.26 in 12 contests for the Marlins.

Now, he's back in Baltimore — the Orioles claimed him on waivers Saturday.

Why is Baltimore taking a chance on former KC Royals hurler Jorge López?

Excellent question. Most contending teams (after beating Arizona Saturday night, the Orioles lead the tough American League East by 2.5 games) don't pursue struggling relievers for their stretch runs, especially those who, like López, are joining the organization too late to be eligible for the playoffs.

The Orioles, though, are in a bit of a bind. A UCL issue forced closer Félix Bautista to the 15-day Injured List a week ago, leaving a hole of uncertain duration in the Baltimore bullpen. Although they traded López away last season, he remains a known commodity to the O's, one in whom they clearly still have confidence notwithstanding his recent struggles.

How much he'll help the club is anyone's guess. But gambling again on López just might work.

We shall see.

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