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Christian Lopes proves good things can come from the No. 9 spot

The bottom of the lineup. It's not a place most hitters aspire to be. The goal is to move up in the order, to bat lead-off or clean-up. Not to bat ninth.

Then again, the No. 9 slot isn't the worst place to be. Christian Lopes has learned that. The Buffalo Bisons third baseman his reached base in his last seven plate appearances. On Thursday, he had a single and drew two walks while Wednesday he had two singles, a double and was hit by a pitch.

Lopes has reached base in 10 of his last 11 plate appearances. He was out of the lineup Friday, a rest day for Lopes, as the Herd hosted Scranton/Wilkes-Barre at Coca-Cola Field but over the past 17 games, he has gone 19 for 48 (.395) with three doubles, a home run, and eight walks while driving in eight runs.

As for batting in the No. 9 hole. Well, it's not so bad after all.

"It doesn't really matter to be honest. It's nine innings. It's the same game whether you're lead-off or in the three-hole," Lopes said. "You know, definitely in the top of the order it might be a little bit harder just because you're under a microscope a little bit more. The pitchers are gunning for you. They don’t want to get you on base. And maybe sometimes toward the end of the lineup they might take a breather and that's when guys at the bottom can start doing their damage. But as far as the game, it's the same."

There's also something to be said for watching the game unfold, getting a look at how the opposing pitcher is working and getting feedback from teammates before going up to the plate.

"It definitely makes a difference," Lopes said. "You get to watch how guys are pitching guys that are a similar body-type that you are. You see how they're pitching righty vs. lefty."

It's an attitude that Bisons manager Bobby Meacham was pleased to hear.

"It's better than batting 10th," joked Meacham. "The bottom line is you try like he does to find a silver lining. ... I don't think he really cares where he hits in the lineup. He just wants to be in there. When he's not in there he's always asking, 'Did I do something wrong?' No. I can't play you every single day. Somebody else has to play."

Lopes has found his groove at Triple-A after spending the last two seasons primarily in Double-A New Hampshire. As he moved up a level, he took time to adjust, particularly to seeing more off-speed pitches. He had to learn to be patient, to wait for the fastball. Lately, that's resulted in hits or a base on balls. And once he's on the base path, he's able to contribute, logging 25 runs scored.

On Wednesday he scored from third on a wild pitch. On Thursday he stole second to get into scoring position. He entered Friday tied for the team lead in stolen bases with 11 and is part of a Bisons club that loves to run aggressively.

"It started in spring training. You know they put an emphasis on running the bases hard for your teammates and doing everything you can to score," Lopes said. "And so far I think our team has really took hold of that and has taken it to something that we take pride in."

But it's also a sign of confidence and trust. Lopes ability to run the bases comes from the freedom Meacham gives his players to make mistakes.

"From my perspective watching him, he feels like he's not going to get in trouble if he makes a mistake," Meacham said. "He's not going to get in trouble for getting thrown out steal. I keep telling him that. I told him that a lot last year. Toward the end I was like 'Do you finally believe me? I'm not going to get mad. You can go any time you want.' Now I think he's taken that to heart. And he's learned how to not only pick the right pitches to go on but the right pitchers to run on. He's really getting good jumps so that means he's paying attention the whole game."

 

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