Washington Nationals Reaction: Reynaldo Lopez struggles as rough patch for pitching staff continues

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Aug 23, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Reynaldo Lopez (49) pitches during the second inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 23, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Reynaldo Lopez (49) pitches during the second inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports /
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After dominating in his last start, Reynaldo Lopez struggled mightily in the Washington Nationals’ loss to the Baltimore Orioles last night.

During his brief time in the big leagues this season, the Washington Nationals have seen just how dominant Reynaldo Lopez can be. In his Aug. 18 start against the Braves, for example, Lopez flaunted his signature, un-hittable fastball. He used it to perfection, striking out 11 batters in seven innings of work.

But, they’ve also seen that he’s not quite ready to be a dominant force at the big league level. The stuff is there, but the consistency is not. Last night, his inconsistency was on full display in what was arguably the worst outing of his young big league career.

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After dominating in his previous start against the Braves, Lopez struggled mightily last night against the Orioles, allowing six runs (four earned) while walking three batters and striking out two in just 2 2/3 innings. His command was off, and his short outing forced the Nationals to go to an already-taxed bullpen in the third inning. The Nationals went on to lose the game, 8-1, handing Lopez his second career loss.

Lopez’s struggles last night lend more credibility to a concerning (albeit, small) trend that we’ve seen from the Nationals pitching staff in recent days.

Nationals pitchers — who have been among the best in baseball this season — have allowed 54 runs in their last nine games. That’s an average of six runs per game.

Of course, it doesn’t help that the defense committed a whopping 10 errors in that time span. It also doesn’t help that three of those games were played in Colorado, where pitching stats generally go to die.

That being said, it’s hard to win when you’re giving up runs in bunches on a near nightly basis, which makes it unsurprising that the Nationals have gone 4-5 in their last nine games. In fact, the Nationals are fortunate that they’ve only been outscored by one run (54-53) during that span. If the offense hadn’t been on fire, they probably wouldn’t have won four games.

This, of course, brings us back to the main problem facing the Nationals as we head into the stretch run. The pitching staff is depleted with Joe Ross and Stephen Strasburg on the DL, and the bullpen is overworked. This forces the team to rely on pitchers like Lopez, Lucas Giolito and A.J. Cole to learn on the fly. Those pitchers inevitably struggle at times, which further overworks the bullpen, and so the cycle continues.

Fortunately for the Nationals, they’re not exactly in a stressful situation right now. They have a comfortable lead in the NL East, and the division is very much their’s to lose. The Nationals were inevitably going to go through a rough patch like this eventually,and they’re lucky it’s happening in August and not October.

Next: Washington Nationals: Lopez Roughed Up In Loss To Orioles

Once the rotation starts to get healthy and pitchers like Lopez continue to adapt to the big leagues, these problems should work themselves out. The Nationals are where they are today because of their pitching staff. And if they want to play deep into the postseason for the first time in their history, the pitching staff will need to revert to its dominant ways and lead the charge.

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