In a year of uncertainty across the world, Major League Baseball, and the Miami Marlins, there’s one thing that has remained constant: Pablo López is going to throw a gem every five days.
Coming off of another dominant outing in which he allowed just two runs in 6 ⅓ IP against the New York Mets, the 24-year-old has emerged as the team’s ace after a COVID-19 outbreak sidelined three of the Marlins starting pitchers.
“At this point, where our staff is right now, this guy is the ace of our staff,” said manager Don Mattingly after Wednesday’s loss against the Mets. “He’s our best guy. You can count on him every time out.”
López is one of only two original pitchers left from the Opening Day rotation alignment. When the Fish returned to play against the Baltimore Orioles on August 4, he rose to the occasion and tossed five scoreless innings en route to a 4-0 win for Miami. That win jump-started a five-game winning streak coming out of quarantine.
Although López never had a physical battle with the virus, the eight days that he was quarantined in Philadelphia were emotionally challenging. López, who had just lost his father over the summer, was isolated in his own hotel room for eight days, only leaving his room for 30 minutes a day to get food downstairs.
“Finding myself alone in a hotel room in Philadelphia, I mean that really wore me out mentally,” he said. “But it was also thinking about him that kept me going through it. I kept having conversations with him inside my head, and I knew he was pushing for me while I was there, making sure I stayed ready, and stayed sharp. I owed it to him coming into [Aug. 4].”
López kept his arm conditioned by throwing rolled up socks at his mattress, pillow, and couch. While most pitchers would have looked rusty coming out of the gate for their first start all season under those circumstance, López set the tone for their four-game sweep of Baltimore.
However, the Marlins pitching staff still had an uphill battle while missing three of their starting pitchers, including ace Sandy Alcantara. Although Elieser Hernandez and Daniel Castano have impressed many around the organization this season, the team’s ERA has inflated to 5.74 during their current 2-8 slide dating back to August 8.
Somehow, López has continued to perform through all of the chaos of the 2020 season. His 2.42 ERA ranks fourth in Marlins history for best single-season ERA by a qualified starting pitcher—he only ranks behind Kevin Brown (1.89), Jose Fernandez (2.19), and Josh Johnson (2.30). His ground ball rate has also risen to 60.3 percent, which has never been maintained by a Marlins starter over the course of a full season.
Aside from the quality of his work, López has saved the bullpen from total exhaustion by providing length, too. He accounts for four of the eight instances of Marlins starters completing five full innings.
Judging by the high praise he had for López during Summer Camp, Marlins pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. isn’t surprised by the success:
“This guy is on the upward swing of things. I’m so proud of the work that he’s put in. He’s starting to settle in, become comfortable. We’ve added the pitches. You talk to our hitters and hear the feedback, and the response they have about Pablo, this is a changed man.”