Reynaldo Lopez continues to ease Braves rotation concerns

MLB: APR 02 Braves at White Sox

Coming into the season, there were a lot of questions about who would be the Braves’ fifth starter, but Reynaldo Lopez has answered those and then some.

After two turns through the rotation, the former White Sox reliever had been by far the Braves’ best starting pitcher, giving up just one run over 12 innings and averaging nearly a strikeout per inning. However, the offenses he had faced had to be taken into account. His first start in a Braves uniform came against his former team, who will be in the running for the worst record in Major League Baseball. The second start for Reynaldo Lopez came against the Mets, a more formidable offense, but not by too much.

Yesterday’s start against the Astros was by far the most difficult test for Reynaldo Lopez, who is starting every five days again for the first time since 2021, and he passed with flying colors. Houston’s offense came into the week ranking inside the top five in just about every category — batting average, on-base percentage, slugging, OPS, and home runs. They’ve also been to seven straight American League Championship Series. Anybody who can quiet these bats for an extended period has some serious potential, and Lopez didn’t just do that, he shut them out over six innings, allowing just four hits and a walk with seven strikeouts.

The stat line is as impressive as it gets, but I’m almost more blown away by the stuff and his approach each time through the order. For a pitcher who hasn’t thrown more than 66 innings since 2019, he looks like a guy who has been starting every five days for the better part of a decade. Lopez’s velocity is slightly down compared to when he was a reliever, but he still has 97 in his back pocket any time it’s needed, a devastating slider, and a good curveball to keep opponents honest. It also feels like he’s getting stronger with each start.

Of course, the Braves’ fifth spot in the rotation is now a concern again following the news that Spencer Strider is done for the season with a torn UCL. What isn’t in question is Lopez’s standing with the team. He’s not going to have a 0.50 ERA all season; there will undoubtedly be some bumps in the road, but I see no reason why he can’t be a mainstay in the middle of the rotation. It will be interesting to see how, or if, the Braves attempt to limit his innings to keep him fresh for the entire season.

Photo: Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire

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