Lopez reverts to earlier form in 8-1 loss to Orioles

BALTIMORE - There's no denying Reynaldo Lopez's electric stuff, and that stuff's ability to be successful against big league hitters.

But at the moment, there's also no denying Lopez's inability to have success against anybody other than the worst team in baseball.

The Nationals rookie has now made five major league starts. He's 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA against the Braves, a team currently on pace to lose 104 games. And he's 0-2 with a 10.32 ERA against the Dodgers, Giants and Orioles, all currently in position to make the playoffs.

So which version of Lopez is the real version? Both, as manager Dusty Baker explained following tonight's 8-1 shellacking at Camden Yards.

"(His stuff) looked pretty good," Baker said. "He just couldn't put them away, which is going to happen with young pitchers, especially. They will look good one time and then not look good the next time. I guess that's part of the growing process, and part of why he was in the minor leagues: To learn how to be more consistent each time out."

Lopez looked awfully good five nights ago in Atlanta, striking out 11 while allowing only one run in seven innings. But he looked nothing like that guy tonight in Baltimore, roughed up for six runs (four earned) on seven hits in only 2 2/3 innings before Baker pulled him with his pitch count a whopping 82.


"I don't feel like there's a lot of difference," the Dominican native said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "Just the results weren't what I expected. And the game didn't come out the way I would have liked it to."

That'll happen when you face a lineup as deep and dangerous as the one the Orioles sent out there tonight. Those hitters battled their way through a bunch of prolonged at-bats, recording all seven of their hits off Lopez with two strikes.

"He was facing some veteran hitters that can hit," Baker said. "He could have put them away. He'd get two strikes, but we knew they were a very good offensive team. He was facing some veteran hitters that knew what they were doing."

Lopez wasn't about to give all the credit to the opposing lineup.

"I mean, a little bit," he said. "But I don't think that was the main reason why they got my pitch count up."

What was the main reason?

"Sometimes you try to do certain things out there, and the results aren't what you expect," Lopez said. "You try to focus on the control in the zone, and it's not there. And some of the pitches in the zone were close and the umpire didn't call them the way I'd like him to. But, that's part of the game."

The Nationals didn't necessarily want to throw Lopez into this fire this season. It's a lot for a 22-year-old who finished last season at Single-A Potomac to handle.

But Joe Ross' longer-than-expected stint on the disabled list - the right-hander, out since July 3, finally threw a bullpen session today and believes he'll be ready to return in September - and fellow prospect Lucas Giolito's struggles to date have forced the Nationals to ask a lot of Lopez.

And with Stephen Strasburg also on the disabled list now with a sore elbow, they may need to continue asking Lopez to make starts every five days. Trouble is, he has now thrown 127 1/3 innings combined between the minors and majors this season. He only threw 99 last year, 83 1/3 the year before that.

Club protocol typically is to cap a young pitcher at roughly a 25-to-30 percent increase from his previous season's innings total. Lopez is already there, though he insists he isn't experiencing any fatigue at this point.

"I feel good," he said. "I don't feel like my body is like I've thrown a lot of innings this year. I've worked hard to keep my body in shape. That's what I work for. And I work for this purpose: To make sure that my body's ready for the long haul."

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