Reynaldo Lopez has 122 Ks in 102 ⅓ innings pitched at Double-A and Triple-A in the Washington Nationals’ system this season.
He struck out nine of the 25 batters faced in his MLB debut, but in his best start in the majors, last week in the nation’s capital against the Atlanta Braves, the hard-throwing righty collected just two Ks.
Asked about the fact that he has strikeout stuff, but didn’t strike many out in his seven innings on the mound in D.C., Nationals’ skipper Dusty Baker said that people tend to focus on the wrong things.
“I think everybody puts too much emphasis on the strikeouts,” Baker explained.
“The key is to get outs and to take the sting out of the opposition’s bats and they didn’t hit that many balls hard off of him.”
Lopez gave up just five hits, and the one run he allowed came on a Freddie Freeman home run in the first.
“[Freeman] hit the ball out of the ballpark,” Baker told reporters after the game.
“Other than that, they threatened a couple times, but he threw a couple key double plays, which is part of pitching.
“You’ve got to give [catcher Pedro Severino] a lot of credit for calling the game for him and [pitching coach] Mike [Maddux] a lot of credit for giving him the game plan.”
Thursday night in Atlanta’s Turner Field, it was a different story.
Lopez, who led all Nationals’ minor leaguers in Ks at the time of his promotion and ranked ninth in K/9 among all minor league pitchers with at least 100 IP (10.73 K/9), struck out 11 Braves’ batters on 101 pitches in seven innings pitched as he cruised to his second straight win over Atlanta.
He was throwing heat. According to BrooksBaseball, Lopez averaged 97.6 mph with his fastball and dialed it up to 99.5.
#Nationals Reynaldo Lopez had an average fastball velocity of 97.3 MPH yesterday. Topping out at 99.2 MPH— Daren Willman (@darenw) August 19, 2016
He was throwing predominantly two pitches, mixing in one changeup and 32 curves (11 swings, 6 misses) along with 68 fastballs (40 swings, eight misses, 12 put in play, five for hits).
He was pounding the strike zone too, throwing 53 of 68 fastballs for strikes (77.9%) and 20 of his 32 curves (34.4%).
“He was dynamite,” Dusty Baker told reporters, including MLB.com’s Bill Ladson, after the Nationals’ 8-2 win in Turner Field.
"He had his breaking ball working and he spotted his fastball where he wanted to throw it."
Baker showed faith in the 22-year-old right-hander too, letting him battle through the seventh as his pitch count approached a hundred.
Lopez gave up a leadoff single and a two-out walk in what was then a one-run game, and stayed on to retire Ender Inciarte for the final out of the frame.
He said afterwards it was a good learning experience.
“That was a tough call,” Baker said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman:
“But when you get a chance, if the guy’s still throwing the ball well, it’s his game. You’d hate to have somebody come in and mess up in 30 seconds what took him 2 1/2 hours worth of work.
“Plus, that’s the maturity of a pitcher. He grew up right there. Sometimes you have to let them grow up. You can’t always rescue them. He’s a calm young man. He made the pitches when he had to. And he’s getting better and better.”
Reynaldo Lopez’s Line: 7.0 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 11 Ks, 101 P, 73 S, 5/1 GO/FO.
Lopez, through an interpreter, said he felt much more comfortable than he had in his previous outings and he was determined to put together a strong start.
“I just had a lot more confidence in this outing,” Lopez said, “and at the beginning of this game, I just felt like I was a caged animal and I just wanted to get out there and be very aggressive and I was and was very effective.”
1. Freddie Freeman - 98 mph 1-2 FB, swinging
2. Matt Kemp - 80 mph 1-2 curve inside, swinging
3. Nick Markakis - 98 mph 1-2 FB in on hands. swinging
4. Jace Peterson - 97 mph 1-2 FB up high. swinging
5. Dansby Swanson - 98 mph 2-2 FB low and away. swinging
6. Rob Whalen - 97 mph 2-2 FB inside swinging
7. Ender Inciarte - 81 mph 2-2 curve swinging
8. Adonis Garcia - 98 mph 0-2 FB called - 8 straight outs via strikeout
9. Tyler Flowers - 98 mph 2-2 FB, swinging.
10. Whalen - 0-2 fouled off bunt
11. Markakis - 79 mph 1-2 curve, backdoor, called strike 3
• We talked about Lopez’s outing and more on Nats Nightly after the game: