Dusty Baker had never seen Reynaldo Lopez in person before the 22-year-old right-hander took the mound tonight for his major league debut, only reports on one of the Nationals’ top pitching prospects.
And what did those reports on Lopez say?
“The reports are that he can get away with more because he’s throwing almost 100,” Baker said this afternoon. “That’s exactly what the reports are. He might not have to be ... as fine when you’re throwing hard like that.”
Reality hasn’t exactly matched up with the scouting memo so far tonight. Lopez has been throwing plenty hard, but he hasn’t been getting away with much against a Dodgers lineup that is pouncing on every mistake the young pitcher throws.
Lopez has surrendered four runs through his first four big league innings, three of them coming in the top of the first alone. He has, however, settled down as the night has progressed, retiring eight in a row (six via strikeout) in an attempt to salvage what was looking like a wayward debut appearance.
Summoned from Triple-A Syracuse instead of No. 1 pitching prospect Lucas Giolito (who is starting for the Chiefs tonight against Gwinnett), Lopez suffered through a nightmare first major league inning. Chase Utley clubbed the third pitch he saw over the right field wall for a leadoff homer, then Howie Kendrick and Justin Turner followed with well-struck base hits. Joc Pederson’s two-out, two-run single off a 99 mph fastball made it 3-0 and left the large crowd murmuring over Lopez’s inauspicious outing.
The second inning began in equally disturbing fashion for Lopez, who gave up three more hits, bringing in another run and bringing pitching coach Mike Maddux to the mound for his second visit in roughly 30 minutes.
To his credit, though, Lopez has found his groove since. Relying more on his curveball and changeup than his fastball, he retired eight straight batters, striking out six of them.
That has at least given the Nationals a chance to get back in this game, though so far they haven’t been able to do it against veteran left-hander Scott Kazmir. The Nats have amassed two hits through four innings at the plate, and thus trail 4-0.
Update: We’re through six innings now, the Nationals now trailing 6-1. Lopez hit a wall in the fifth, giving up two more runs on three more hits and his first walk of the night. He was pulled by Baker with two outs and his pitch count at 105. Lopez’s final line: 4.2 IP, 10 H, 6 ER, 1 BB, 9 K. There absolutely were positives in there (his nine strikeouts are the most by any Nats pitcher in his MLB debut besides Stephen Strasburg’s 14) but clearly he needs to better command his fastball to have success at this level. Meanwhile, Jose Lobaton homered (only the second of his career off a lefty) in the bottom of the fifth to trim the deficit to 6-1. That and Daniel Murphy’s pinch-hit homer in the bottom of the ninth Sunday represent the Nationals’ only two runs scored in their last 24 innings.
Update II: Things turned a bit more interesting in the eighth inning, though the Nats are running out of time. They gave up what now could be a costly unearned run in the top of the frame, with Murphy throwing away his first chance at third base this season and Harper bobbling an RBI single. They did rally for three runs in the bottom of the inning, thanks to Trea Turner’s first career triple and a drive by Murphy that missed being a homer by about one inch but wound up an RBI double. After all that, they trail 7-4 heading to the ninth.
Update III: That’ll do it. The Nats lose 8-4 after Shawn Kelley gave up a homer to Yasmani Grandal in the top of the ninth and the lineup couldn’t rally against closer Kenley Jansen. They’re now 0-4 against the Dodgers this season. Lopez had an erratic debut, giving up six runs but striking out nine while walking only one in 4 2/3 innings. It’ll be interesting to see what the Nationals plan to do with him the next time through the rotation.