During Spring Training, Lopez vowed he wouldn't accept being a reserve player, but he did everything manager Manny Acta asked of him in that role. When he was asked to play left field a couple of weeks ago, Lopez didn't hesitate and did a credible job.
On Thursday night, Lopez drove in a career-high six runs to help the Nationals pound the Mets, 10-5, at Nationals Park.
Lopez is no longer a reserve, having taken the second-base position away from Belliard. Lopez is now providing the spark that the team has waited for since they acquired him from the Reds back in June 2006. Since April 18, Lopez is 10-for-28 (.357) to raise his batting average to .271.
"Even when he didn't win the job out of Spring Training, he never put his head down," Acta said. "He worked hard and had a good attitude. I told him. 'It's a long season, it doesn't mean you can't work yourself back in to the lineup.' He has been tremendous."
All six of Lopez's RBIs came with the bases loaded. The Nationals were down, 3-0, in the bottom of the fifth inning, when Lopez hit an 0-1 fastball from left-hander Oliver Perez to center field to knock in two runs.
Later in the inning, Ronnie Belliard scored the third run of the game on a Ryan Zimmerman groundout.
In the next inning, the Nationals again had the bases loaded when Lopez came to the plate. He hit Aaron Heilman's 3-2 changeup over the right-center-field wall for a grand slam, the fourth of his career, to make it a 7-3 game.
"It feels good to do it for the team, but at the end of the day, it's the [win] that I care about," Lopez said. "I thought it had a good chance [to go out], but coming from last year at RFK, I thought, 'Wait a minute, let me run on that.' It was good."
The last member of the Nationals to hit a grand slam was outfielder Justin Maxwell on Sept. 11, 2007.
"That was a tremendous at-bat there," Acta said. "He gave us a big inning that we have been needing."
Last year, it was rare when Lopez had tremendous at-bats. In fact, it turned out to be his worst season as a regular player. His energy was almost gone, and it got to a point where Acta had to take him out of a game against the Pirates for not hustling last June.
|"If you don't believe in yourself, it doesn't matter. I believe in my ability. I'm very positive. My work habits have been great, and they will continue to be."|
|-- Felipe Lopez|
Late in the season, even though Lopez was in a hitting and fielding slump, Acta and first-base coach Jerry Morales gave him a vote of confidence.
Lopez would reveal last season that he had off-the-field problems. To this day, he never said what those problems were. With those issues behind him, Lopez is looking to have his best season since 2005, when he was an All-Star with Cincinnati.
"I think I can provide a spark," Lopez said. "I'm the type of player that can steal bases, put the pressure on young teams. If you have that in the top of the lineup, all of a sudden, Zimmerman and the rest of the guys will start getting better pitches."
Said Acta: "He has shown that he is ready to play. He came out in Spring Training, he competed. He didn't get the job, but [he is helping us now]. He is ready to play hard wherever we play him. He could have put his head down and struggled again. At the same token, it's a long season. He has to continue to go out there and play hard to help us out."
Lopez said he is grateful that Acta has stuck by him, but he realizes that he has to be the one to believe in himself in order to have a successful season.
"If you don't believe in yourself, it doesn't matter," Lopez said. "I believe in my ability. I'm very positive. My work habits have been great, and they will continue to be."
Washington would add three more runs against reliever Jorge Sosa to put the game out of reach. Wil Nieves, Johnny Estrada and Cristian Guzman all had RBI singles.
At first, Thursday looked like it was going to be another tough game for the Nationals. By the fifth inning, they were down, 3-0. Right-hander Shawn Hill pitched five innings while giving up six hits and the three runs, but he ended up with a no-decision.
"I just let the guys that shouldn't beat me, beat me," said Hill, who threw 98 pitches during the game. "I left bad pitches over the middle of the plate. I missed location more than anything."
With the victory, the Nationals are now 7-16 for the season.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.