Wednesday was a great day for Reynaldo Lopez, as the Washington Nationals’ prized pitching prospect delivered his best start to date at Double-A Harrisburg. Picking up the win against Erie (Detroit Tigers), the right-hander allowed just one run over six innings, while striking nine and walking just one.
The strikeouts were the most in any start for Lopez since last August, but his command in the outing was the biggest takeaway. During his early-season starts, he has issued an uncharacteristically high number of walks, and his current 3.6 BB/9 is higher than his career total of 2.9.
That was one of the reasons why the early returns for Lopez were so mixed, as he closed April with a 4.91 ERA despite a respectable 7.8 K/9 rate over that period. He has been much better in May — thanks in large part to his ability to reduce hard contact — and should continue to make progress throughout the season.
I have been bullish on Lopez for the last several years, because he can consistently throw his fastball in the mid-to-upper 90’s and generate ground balls. While his breaking ball has been a key part of his success thus far, one concern that has loomed is his changeup, as most insiders have felt that Lopez is destined for bullpen if he does not refine the pitch.
Unsurprisingly, the Nationals have made the development of the changeup a focal point for Lopez. As PennLive.com reported recently, Lopez has worked with Harrisburg pitching coach Chris Michalak on throwing the pitch in better situations and improving his ability to locate it in the strike zone.
Those adjustments, along with efforts to better repeat his delivery, are common steps for pitchers for pitchers such as Lopez once they reach Double-A. One major distinction that Lopez has from other prospects, however, is that he has never pitched this early in a season. Prior to making the Opening Day roster at Harrisburg, he had not made an appearance before May 1 at any level, with his May 7 start at High-A Potomac last marking the earliest of his career.
As a way to limit his innings last year, the Nationals held Lopez back in extended spring training for the season’s first month. While that move might pay off over the long run, it leaves Lopez with a big test for this season, as he is likely going to set a new career-high in innings if he can stay healthy.
Over the course of this season, Lopez will have to continue making adjustments to assure both his durability and his success. Should he complete a solid season at Harrisburg, it would go a long way to silencing the doubts about his ability to stick in the rotation and perhaps making him one of the top pitching prospects in baseball.
- In relief of Lopez on Wednesday, Wander Suero struck out two batters in as many innings. The right-hander has fanned 17 batters over 18 innings this season, while walking nine and posting a 1.50 ERA.
- Andrew Stevenson went 2-for-4 in Potomac’s 2-0 win over Carolina (Atlanta Braves) in game two of Wednesday’s doubleheader. Through his first 35 games, the outfielder is batting .338/.398/.455 with 14 stolen bases in 20 attempts.