Washington Nationals pitcher Reynaldo Lopez has electric stuff, but is one step away from consistent major league success, just like Lucas Giolito.
Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez have made four and six starts in the major leagues respectively this season. They are the latest in the seemingly constant rotating door of elite pitching prospects at the top of the Washington Nationals‘ farm system.
As the term prospect implies, their sets of skills aren’t up to the Major League competition just yet. Lopez has struggled in every start other than his two wins against the Atlanta Braves, the worst offense in baseball. He uses only three pitches — fastball, curveball, and changeup — and throws them all at high velocity.
However, as his starts against contenders in the Mets, Orioles, Giants, and Dodgers displayed, the stuff that overpowers minor-league lineups simply doesn’t work in The Show without something more.
Lopez lasted less than five innings for the fourth time this season against the Mets last night. He threw 85 pitches (53 for strikes) and gave up three runs on six hits. No one is arguing that his stuff — fastball in particular — is major-league ready. He also gets decent movement on his secondary pitches. However, what’s missing is a confidence in using something other than the fastball in clutch situations and a general control to go along with his velocity.
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In the minors, Lopez commonly threw his fastball over and over again. It often went straight past the less adjusted minor league hitters. He’s tried the same strategy in each of his six starts and it simply isn’t working for him.
The Washington Nationals need to recognize that and start a veteran such as Mat Latos in his place (Washington hasn’t completely run away with the division just yet).
With that being said, Lopez is aware of his weaknesses. Here is what he told reporters after last night’s loss:
"“The hitters are very intelligent. It’s not about power. It’s not about power on my end, either, not throwing the ball past everybody. I’ve got to pitch intelligently, just be smart and get smart, and that’s the game up here. The hitters are a lot smarter.” (h/t Mark Zuckerman, MASNSports.com)."
Giolito, while more developed in repertoire than Lopez, has similar struggles. The Washington Nationals’ number one young pitcher has control issues as well, but not as deep. He’s shown stretches of fantastic control and poise on the mound (first MLB start against the Mets). One of his biggest strengths is a tendency to draw weak contact.
However, it’s hard to do that when one pitch in every 20 is left sitting on a platter in the middle of the zone. That tendency is what did him in against the Rockies on August 28 when he threw 100 pitches in five innings and gave up four runs on six hits.
Giolito needs to work on getting ahead of hitters early and limiting his mistake pitches. Veteran starters learn to minimize the damage on their mistakes by missing on the outside of the zone, instead of in the middle. Giolito will be well on his way to a permanent spot in the rotation if he figures that out.
Both Lopez and Giolito are at the front of the Washington Nationals’ rotating door of electric young arms. They are just one step away from successful starts to their major league careers. Nationals fans just need to be patient.