Washington Nationals rookie Reynaldo Lopez struck out eleven hitters over seven strong innings against the Braves Thursday evening. What was working for the young right-hander?
After a weekend at Coors Field that saw the Nationals’ bullpen throw more innings than their starters, Washington desperately needed 22-year old Reynaldo Lopez (2-1, 4.37 ERA) to step up and give his relievers some rest last night. Making his fourth career start and his second straight against the Braves, Lopez did just that. He allowed only two runs (one unearned) behind four hits, two walks, and a career-high 11 strikeouts.
Lopez’s most effective pitch was his four-seamer. He threw the fastball, which topped out at 98 mph, for strikes 78 percent of the time. Lopez most often turned to his curveball as his primary offspeed option, throwing it in the zone 63 percent of the times he used it. Both of these numbers are courtesy of Brooks Baseball.
Overall, Lopez is an effective strikeout pitcher who typically keeps balls in play on the ground. He has the makeup of a dominant starter, and clearly has a very bright future in a Nationals uniform. As far as 2016 goes, however, he could play a factor as either a starter or in the bullpen down the stretch.
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The Nats’ prized young arm tossed a career-high 99.0 innings for High-A Potomac last season. So far this year, Lopez has thrown 125.0 innings between the Minors and Majors. With the Nats reputation for strictly managing inning limits for their young starters, it would not be surprising to see Lopez shifted to the bullpen once Joe Ross returns from his injury.
If converted to a reliever, Lopez would be an impressive weapon in Dusty Baker’s arsenal. His ability to strike out hitters at an absurd rate coupled with his groundball tendencies make Lopez an ideal late-inning reliever. While Mark Melancon and Shawn Kelley have a stranglehold on the final two innings, Lopez could very well find himself thrusted into tight spots ahead of them late in games.
While the Nats’ No. 1 overall prospect Lucas Giolito is still at triple-A Syracuse working out his mechanics, Lopez has posted two consecutive starts of at least seven innings at the Major League level. He already has a K/9 of 10.3, which would trail only Kelley as the highest mark in the Nationals bullpen.
The Nationals are a team without many holes, but their bullpen has been a roller coaster ride throughout the entire season. If the Nats were to move Lopez to the bullpen, he could be the missing piece that ends up holding everything together.