Setting table for Royals suits Naperville native Lopez

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Kansas City Royals' Emmanuel Rivera, right, celebrates with Nicky Lopez, a Naperville Central grad, after hitting a solo home run in the fifth inning Friday against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.

    Kansas City Royals' Emmanuel Rivera, right, celebrates with Nicky Lopez, a Naperville Central grad, after hitting a solo home run in the fifth inning Friday against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 8/21/2021 10:16 PM

Contact seems to making a comeback in the major leagues.

Kansas City Royals shortstop Nicky Lopez was ahead of the curve in that regard. The Naperville Central grad had a disappointing performance in 2020, hitting just .201.

 

But he refined his style at the plate and it's paying off. He went 3 for 5 with an RBI and 2 stolen bases on Saturday in Kansas City's 4-2 victory over the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

"I feel like people look at the slugging percentage and they look at the OPS and stuff like that, but everyone's different and I feel like if I was going to go up there and swing for the fences every single time, I was kind of shorting myself," Lopez said after the game. "Last year was a really tough year and I had to reanalyze and refocus on what made Nicky Lopez successful in the minor leagues.

"That was slapping the ball the other way, left, right, center, gaps; putting the ball in play and then getting on base anyway I can. I was batting nine, I'm thankful for batting two now. I'm trying to get on base as much as I can and I feel that suits me to be successful."

Lopez said earlier this season he accepted the fact that he's going to be a No. 8 hitter. But he's actually hitting second now for the Royals. It's a team without much slug, but Whit Merrifield and Lopez have been making things happen at the top of the order.

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They opened Saturday's game with a single and double, respectively, against Cubs starter Keegan Thompson. Lopez added an RBI single in the second inning to make it 2-0.

"To me, this is Royals baseball, just grinding, fighting to get on base, putting pressure on, taking the extra bag," KC manager Mike Matheny said. "You love having one guy at the top that is setting the tone, let alone two."

After a poor showing in spring training, Lopez was sent down to Triple A and didn't appear to be in the Royals plans. He'd played mostly second base and Merrifield moved back to that spot from the outfield. But two injuries to shortstop Adalberto Mondesi gave Lopez another chance.

"It was a tough pill to swallow," Lopez said of being sent down temporarily. "When I got sent down it was one of those things where it was a punch in the gut, but I had to quickly turn it into a positive, maybe this is the best thing that ever happened to me. I think it has been."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

With his 3 hits on Saturday, Lopez is hitting .278 on the season with an on-base percentage of .346. Ironically, he hit his first home run of the year on Thursday against Houston, the fourth of his career. It snapped a streak of 464 homerless at bats, which was second-longest in the majors to Miami's Magneuris Sierra.

On Saturday, Lopez watched Royals pitcher Kris Bubic pitch a no-hitter through 6 innings. After a 30-minute weather delay, Bubic came back to the mound, gave up a walk and 2-run homer to Patrick Wisdom. The home run turned out to be the Cubs' only hit of the day.

Meanwhile, the Cubs tied a franchise record with their 12th consecutive home loss.

Lopez was with the Royals when they played the Cubs last season, but Friday was the first time he actually played in a game at Wrigley Field.

"It was WGN every single day with my grandpa, my family, because they were big Cubs fans growing up," Lopez said. "Watching it every single day, seeing the ivy, then being able to come here and play, it was a dream come true. This ballpark's electric. The atmosphere and everything about is everything I kind of dreamed of."

• Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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