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08/04/08 10:25 PM ET
Lopez delivering during second half
Second baseman impressive while hitting with two strikes
By Jesse Baumgartner / MLB.com
SEATTLE -- After a solid first half last season, Mariners second baseman Jose Lopez promptly came back from the All-Star break and hit .213 with three homers and a measly 15 RBIs the rest of the season. This year he's trying out a different approach -- one where he hits .328 after the Midsummer Classic and extends his hitting streak to a career-high 19 games before finally ending it on Saturday. Hitting .302 overall with nine homers and 60 RBIs entering Monday's game, Lopez is building upon his productive first half and helping to carry a Mariners lineup that has struggled to score consistently for much of the season. He's on pace to top his career homer mark of 11 last year and could do the same in walks and RBIs. And with 28 doubles so far, he's on pace to reach 40 this season. "He can really hit, and the ball jumps off his bat when he hits," Seattle manager Jim Riggleman said. "He's got potential for some home runs, but he's got a real potential for a real high number of doubles. This guy can hit a lot of gappers." But the most impressive part of Lopez's season thus far might be his ability to hit when he has two strikes. Going into Monday's action, he was leading the American League with a .284 (55-for-194) batting average with two strikes among players with more than 80 plate appearances in that situation. Not surprisingly, Lopez only has 45 strikeouts in 443 at-bats. "It goes back to talent. He's got a lot of talent, and this guy can really hit," Riggleman said. "I read something the other day about his batting average with two strikes, and I had no idea about that. There's so many numbers coming at you that I wouldn't have known that unless somebody said it." Some hitters tend to change things up with two strikes. Former Mariners second baseman Bret Boone was known for completely opening up his stance and choking up on the bat during those situations. But Riggleman couldn't pinpoint anything too different about Lopez's approach. "I haven't noticed. [His] strikeouts aren't real high for a guy who's still a young player and swings pretty aggressive," Riggleman said. "He may be spreading out a little bit. In my mind, I can picture him kind of spread out, but I don't know if that's just with two strikes." Whatever the strategy, it's definitely worked so far for the second baseman this season. And since he also leads the team in two-out RBIs with 27, there might just be a new nickname on the horizon -- Last Chance Lopez.
Jesse Baumgartner is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.