Lopez working out of 'pen with spring in step

Lopez working out of 'pen with spring in step

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies relief pitcher Wilton Lopez is having a strong Spring Training with a 1.86 ERA, but that's not unusual. He has a 1.83 career spring ERA in 50 appearances since 2008. But after a rough 2013, his first in a Rockies uniform, what's important is he believes he can maintain his spring form when the real season starts.

The Rockies acquired Lopez during the winter of 2012 in a trade with the Astros, where he had been the closer, believing his power could work in a setup role. But Lopez struggled with the consistency of his delivery, and the dealt with the stress of his father's illness and death in Nicaragua. Lopez received praise from manager Walt Weiss for always making himself available, and he pitched in a team-leading 75 games, but the numbers were subpar -- 3-4 with a 4.06 ERA.

With a clearer mind and settled into being with the Rockies, Lopez appears to have corrected a delivery flaw that robbed him of downward action on his sinker. This spring, he has seven strikeouts against no walks, and has induced 1.63 groundouts for every out in the air.

Lopez said reminders from pitching coach Jim Wright to stay on balance as he begins his delivery, which means Lopez doesn't tilt back as he lifts his left leg, have helped.

"I can see that my two-seamer is going down, and I'm doing what Jimmy tells me to do," Lopez said in Spanish as catcher Wilin Rosario served as translator. "This year, I feel that I've improved."

Lopez went into last year as primary right-handed setup man, but righty Chad Bettis has been excellent this spring and has the power arm that fits late in games. Lopez, Bettis and LaTroy Hawkins, who was signed as closer but on occasion will be setup man for lefty Rex Brothers, could give the Rockies many power options late in games.

Wright likes that Lopez seems in a much better place.

"He's got much better sink and his changeup is going straight down, and it's tied into his delivery," Wright said. "He's been pitch-efficient. He's had the kind of outings we want to see out of him."

Last season, there were some hot periods but also extended slumps. Lopez will have to prove he can adjust quickly when something falls out of kilter.

"Jimmy tells me when I'm good and when I'm bad, when I do something that does not work, but right now I feel I can control myself and make a good adjustment," Lopez said.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.