Washington Nationals Reaction: Reynaldo Lopez, Like Lucas Giolito, Needs To Improve Control
Washington Nationals prospect Reynaldo Lopez showed flashes of brilliance in his big league debut, but faulty command ultimately tarnished his night.
The first box to check on a position player prospect on his way to the major leagues is an ability to hit the fastball. Conversely, the first box on a pitcher prospect is the ability to throw the fastball for strikes throughout the zone.
Velocity does matter to a degree, but without control of the pitch, that gets canceled out. Lucas Giolito’s two major league starts were night and day; his debut showed a plus-fastball with velocity and control accented by a downward plane of movement due to his 6-foot-6 frame. But his second start showed a loss of control at times with the fastball and an inability to recover with his offspeed pitches.
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However, we aren’t talking about a major league veteran here. He’s the best pitching prospect in baseball at only 21 years old. Of course he won’t be perfect in his first few starts, let alone his first full year in the big leagues.
Now enter Reynaldo Lopez. The Nationals’ surprise fast-riser in the minor leagues made his debut last night against the Los Angeles Dodgers. While two of his strengths were on full display (the fastball approaching 100 mph consistently, great movement on the curveball and changeup) his weaknesses outweighed them.
His lack of control on the fastball was a not-so-great flashback to the Henry Rodriguez days. While it wasn’t nearly as bad (Rodriguez threw a couple fastballs destined for the backstop a few times each at-bat) it was another Nat with a great fastball they just couldn’t control.
What made it worse was his affinity with it. He kept throwing the fastball over and over, only using the curveball in very specific situations and almost completely neglecting his changeup. It was akin to Jon Lester’s pseudo-phobia of throwing to first base during games.
Using the fastball more than his two other pitches shot him up through the minor leagues; his 30 percent strikeout rate was first among Double-A pitchers this year, according to FanGraphs. His 8 percent walk rate shows the control had been there too.
But this is the major leagues, and hitters that are here know how to hit fastballs at any velocity. Even Aroldis Chapman and his 105 mph screamer allow hits here and there. On the flip side, Mark Buehrle and his low-80s turtle of a fastball led him to success for many years in Chicago and Toronto. It’s all about control and the ability to complement the fastball with other pitches.
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Like Giolito, Lopez needs to return to the minor leagues and round out his repertoire. He doesn’t have the size advantage Giolito has, or the all-around plus stuff, so he would be smart to add another pitch while improving his fastball control. If he does that, and joins Giolito, Scherzer, and Strasburg as full-time members of the 2017/18 Nationals rotation, watch out.