SAN FRANCISCO - Reynaldo Lopez was undone in his first career start by leaving too many fastballs over the heart of the plate. He was undone in his second career start by not putting enough pitches over any portion of the plate.
The young Nationals prospect battled command issues throughout Saturday’s outing against the Giants, resulting in five walks and an elevated pitch count that prevented him from remaining in the game beyond the fourth inning.
The manner in which he put San Francisco’s batters on base left the 22-year-old right-hander particularly discouraged.
“Yes, I was,” Lopez said via interpreter Octavio Martinez. “I’m not used to giving up too many walks. So, obviously, it was disappointing, the way it went today.”
Indeed, Lopez had been a consistent strike-thrower in the minors this season, walking only 2.9 batters per nine innings at Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse. And he walked only one batter in his major league debut earlier this month, a start that was notable more for the flurry of hits the Dodgers racked up by pouncing on his fastballs over the plate.
“Such is the case with youth,” manager Dusty Baker said. “You’re going to be up and down. He wasn’t real wild. He had some near misses from over there. And some of those pitches, especially breaking balls, were strikes. But the guys came down and said the umpire was right on most of them. He was close to throwing a gem. We were hoping he could go six or seven, then we could piece the rest of the game together.”
Lopez, though, didn’t come close to going that deep into the game. With his pitch count at 92, he was pulled after four innings, putting added strain to a Nationals bullpen that has been overworked in recent days.
Two starts into his big league career, Lopez has flashed much of the electric repertoire that allowed him to ascend through the organization’s farm system rapidly in the last year. But he has been unable to complete five innings in either start and has put 20 men on base in only 8 2/3 total innings.
It remains to be seen what happens now to Lopez, but he’s expected to be optioned back to Triple-A today to make room on the active roster for newly acquired closer Mark Melancon. The Nationals don’t need a fifth starter again until August 16, and Joe Ross - who threw 67 pitches Saturday night in a rehab start for Syracuse - should be ready to return from the disabled list by then.
Whatever the future holds, Lopez hopes to take plenty out of his two starts for the Nationals and apply it to his next one.
“It’s a learning experience,” he said. “And you learn every time you’re out there.”