- The Washington Times
Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Reynaldo Lopez was welcomed to Nationals Park on Tuesday night with a standing ovation from fans on the first-base line as he trotted from the bullpen to the dugout.

The crowd’s joy around the right-handed rookie’s major league debut against the Los Angeles Dodgers, however, was short-lived.

Despite delivering the heat—hurling fastballs that flirted with triple-digit speeds—Lopez gave up a leadoff homer to Chase Utley on just his third pitch of the night. His first two innings in the majors would feature seven hits, four earned runs and two mound visits from pitching coach Mike Maddux.

The starter responded with two scoreless frames in the third and fourth and managed total nine strikeouts, but was replaced by Matt Belisle in the top of the fifth after two more Dodgers runs. In 4 2/3 innings, Lopez allowed 10 hits, six earned runs and one walk on 105 pitches.

The Nationals trailed 6-0 in the fifth inning when Lopez was removed, and lost the game 8-4.

“For a guy who throws as hard as he does, you would expect [the Dodgers] to miss more fastballs,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. “But, the kid threw the ball pretty good….His future is very bright. He’s got to tighten up a few things and he’ll be here a long time.”

Lopez replaced injured Joe Ross (right shoulder inflammation) in the Nationals’ rotation Tuesday instead of fellow prospect Lucas Giolito, who was called up earlier in the season. Left-handed reliever Sammy Solis was placed on the 15-day disabled list because of right knee inflammation, opening a spot for Lopez.

Baker said the decision to leave Giolito at Triple-A Syracuse was so that the right-hander could continue to work on his secondary pitches and fastball control. Baker also now has seen both top Nationals’ prospects pitch in the major leagues, which he said will help him later in the fall if either is called up to the team.

“That helps me have a vote, and have a legitimate vote,” Baker said before the game. “When we get in the room and say ok who do we think will be a September call-up am I voting on numbers or something somebody else or on what I see? I go on what I see, even if it’s just a glimpse.”

Lopez had impressed in the minors with a three-pitch repertoire that includes a blistering fastball, a curveball and changeup. He was 3-5 with a 3.18 ERA in 14 starts for Double-A Harrisburg this season, and 1-0 with a 3.27 ERA during two starts for Triple-A Syracuse.

“If Giolito had pitched a little better this might not have happened,” Baker said. “The reports are that [Lopez] can get away with more [than Giolito] because he’s throwing almost 100 [mph]….He might not have to be quite as fine when you’re throwing hard like that.”

However, Lopez’s control was not much better. Of his 105 pitches Tuesday, the rookie threw 40 balls and 65 strikes. Nine of his strikeouts came on off-speed pitches.

“I felt like the location of the fastball was very good, but they were anticipating fastball and jumping on that fastball right away,” Lopez said through interpreter Octavio Martinez. “After that first few innings, it seemed like I started mixing in my pitches better and it worked out. Started getting more outs.”

Baker said Jose Lobaton started behind the plate because handling young pitchers is his “specialty.” Plus, Wilson Ramos caught 18 innings on Sunday. Lobaton spent time with the Lopez leading up to his professional debut. Ramos and bullpen catcher Nelson Robledo also talked to the 22-year-old.

“First thing that I said is that this is the same baseball,” Lobaton said before the game. “And I told him not to do too much.”

At the end of his outing, Lopez received one more ovation from the Nationals’ fans as he exited the game.

Meanwhile at Triple-A Syracuse on Tuesday, Giolito threw 6 2/3 innings giving up seven hits, no earned runs and two walks with seven strikeouts.

“All the hard work I’ve put in. Being in the minors and climbing up. You just don’t expect it,” Lopez said on making his debut. “Thank God for this opportunity and this moment. It’s just something very incredible.”

Ross, Zimmerman progressing

Ross, out since early July 3 with shoulder inflammation, threw a simulated game Tuesday.

“Joe [Ross] looked very good today,” Baker said. “He threw about 35 pitches, consecutive pitches, so that was a pretty good sign. He had good velocity, a good slider and barring any setbacks he might go out this weekend to pitch somewhere.”

A return date for Ryan Zimmerman remains unclear. The Nationals’ first baseman, who was placed on the disabled list July 8, ran the bases Sunday and took batting practice on the field Tuesday.

• Mark Eisenhauer can be reached at meisenhauer@washingtontimes.com.

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