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After year off, Lopez hoping to catch on



Published: Sat, February 26, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The right-hander worked with a trainer after getting no contract offers in 2004.

BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) -- Albie Lopez has lost the weight; now he's trying to win a job with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

A 33-year-old right-hander who has pitched for five major league teams, Lopez is making a comeback after sitting out the 2004 season.

Lopez last pitched for the Kansas City Royals in 2003, but was released that June with a 4-2 record and 12.71 ERA in 15 relief appearances. After losing 30 pounds and working with a personal trainer to strengthen his body, Lopez was offered a minor league contract with the Pirates and will compete for either the fifth starter's job or a spot in the bullpen.

"It doesn't matter," Lopez said. "I just want the ball."

Lopez didn't have any job offers last spring. After compiling a 47-58 record and 4.94 ERA in 11 seasons, he thought his playing days were over.

"My heart wasn't in it," he said. "I needed a break."

Back to work

Lopez returned to Gilbert, Ariz., and was contemplating his future late last spring when he had what he calls an awakening. It came on March 23, which was his wife's birthday.

"I have nice cars and a nice house," Lopez said. "I thought, 'I take care of everything, but I need to start taking care of my body. Why am I not taking care of myself?' "

Lopez decided that he needed to lose some of the excess weight he was carrying on his 6-2, 260-pound frame. He changed his diet and lost 30 pounds before deciding to enroll at Athletes' Performance, a training facility in Tempe, Ariz.

Mark Verstegen, a trainer and author of a best-selling fitness book, put Lopez through three-hour workouts and, later, two-a-day drills aimed at strengthening the pitcher's core muscle groups.

"He did everything with a smile on his face," Verstegen said. "I couldn't ask for anyone to work harder."

Looking for a job

Lopez began contacting teams, and the Pirates were an obvious fit. Manager Lloyd McClendon was Lopez's teammate at Class AAA Buffalo in 1995 and Brian Graham, the team's director of player development, managed Lopez in the Cleveland Indians farm system.

This spring, the Pirates will see whether Lopez's hard work will pay off.

"We don't know if his stuff is still there, but I'd like to find out," McClendon said. "It's no significant risk to our organization to find out."

Lopez said his commitment to conditioning shows how serious he is about his comeback.

"I feel very confident about this," he said. "I'm sure a lot of guys are working hard throughout the league. I know I'm one of them."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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