There’s a truth in sports that you can’t make a big play if you’re not in the game. So the place in the lineup for a baseball player is not nearly as important as being in the lineup.
For players such as Kansas City’s Nicky Lopez, finding a groove in the ninth spot is all about making the most of a hitting situation. He was 4-for-6 plus a walk in the ninth spot in Tuesday’s doubleheader against the White Sox.
Lopez likely will be back in that same position on Wednesday night when the Royals host the Chicago White Sox in the fourth contest of a five-game series.
The White Sox will send Lucas Giolito (2-1, 2.70 ERA) to the mound to face fellow right-hander Zack Greinke (0-2, 3.52). Giolito was reinstated from the COVID-19 injured list earlier on Wednesday.
Giolito will not face Royals star catcher Salvador Perez, however. Perez is expected to miss at least two weeks with a sprained left thumb.
The two clubs split a doubleheader Tuesday, with the White Sox winning the opener 3-0 and the Royals claiming the nightcap 2-1. Runs were hard to come by, so producing from the bottom of the order can be a catalyst to igniting a rally.
“(Batting) No. 2 and 9 are where I want to be,” Lopez said. “The 2-hole particularly, but I feel comfortable in the 9-hole.”
Ironically, White Sox manager Tony La Russa likes to use the nine-hole in the lineup as a “second leadoff” spot. Lopez says it’s more than just a label.
“I believe that whenever the first pitch is thrown that anybody can be that second leadoff hitter,” Lopez said. “But there’s a role for the 9-hole hitter to get on base for the top of the order. Whether I’m hitting 9, or 2, or wherever I’m hitting, my job is to get on base.”
Lopez, who was hitting .367 after 10 games, had seen his average drop below .200. Now, he’s just trying to find the groove again and is up to .215.
“The game of baseball has a funny way of kicking you when you’re down,” he said. “It keeps kicking you until you make adjustments. I just need to stay positive, make the proper adjustments and keep working.”
Lopez is only 3-for-20 lifetime against Giolito, with one extra-base hit and an RBI. Giolito is 8-4 in his career against the Royals, with a 3.43 ERA and 98 strikeouts in 102 1/3 innings over 17 starts.
Greinke is still looking for his first win this season for the Royals, though he’s pitched well.
He allowed three or fewer runs in his first six outings before allowing five runs in Colorado in his last start. He’s 9-10 with a 3.97 ERA in 29 career outings (26 starts) against the White Sox.
Starter Dylan Cease got the victory for Chicago in the opener of Tuesday’s doubleheader, striking out nine in 5 2/3 innings of shutout ball to improve to 4-1.
“Fortunately, I executed pitches with guys in scoring position pretty well today and got some big strikeouts,” Cease told mlb.com.
–Field Level Media