Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Don't sell Lopez short
He's evolved and matured since start of 2005

SARASOTA, Fla. - Last April was a character test for Felipe Lopez.

He lost the battle for the starting shortstop job to Rich Aurilia in spring training.

In the past, Lopez might have moped. He might have gone into a shell. But, last season, he just kept working.

"I thought he matured even as the year went on last year," Reds manager Jerry Narron said. "I was impressed with him early in the year when Rich was playing shortstop, and he didn't roll over and die. He kept working hard and waiting his turn.

"It would have been easy for him to go to the end of the dugout and pout. He didn't do that."

Lopez got his chance May 11 when Aurilia went on the disabled list.

The starting shortstop job was Lopez's by the time Aurilia returned from the DL.

Lopez would go on to hit .291 with 23 home runs, 97 runs, 34 doubles and 85 RBI. He led National League shortstops in home runs, runs batted in and extra-base hits. He was second in slugging and third in average, on-base percentage and doubles.

It was one of the best offensive years ever by a Reds' shortstop.

What was the difference for Lopez, who had not had more than eight homers or 34 RBI in a big-league season?

"Comfort," he said. "Not being afraid to fail. I didn't get down on myself. I've always had the ability. It was a matter of being comfortable."

Lopez, 25, has given himself a tough act to follow. He says he won't be satisfied merely to meet his numbers from a year ago.

"Every year, you try to improve something," Lopez said. "I've worked on everything. I'm not - I can't be - satisfied with what I did last year. I've got to improve."

Lopez attributed part of his success to the offseason work with Rick Eckstein, brother of St. Louis shortstop David Eckstein, and a group of players in Orlando.

"I did the same thing as last offseason," he said.

Lopez finished last season strong. He had a rough August, hitting .231. But he bounced back, hitting .327 in September and .375 in October.

"I prepare myself in the offseason for that, so I can go 162 (games), no problem," he said. "I take that seriously. I keep up with it during the season."

The Reds added Bucky Dent as infield/bench coach. Narron thinks having a former big-league shortstop to work with will help Lopez.

"I don't know about the physical part of it," Narron said. "He might make more errors this year than last. But I think with the mental part Bucky will really help him."

Lopez gave up a chance to play for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic to spend time in camp with Dent.

"It's going good," Lopez said. "I like his methods, his ways of teaching. So far, it's been great. He said we don't have to change anything big. It's little things."

Lopez made only 17 errors last season in 148 games after making 15 in a 79 games the year before.

Dent isn't looking for drastic changes.

"We'll work on little things," Dent said. "Little subtle things can really help."

When you're coming off a year like Lopez's, getting a little better can be a really good thing.