WASHINGTON -- It's safe to say right-hander Reynaldo Lopez will be a part of the Nationals' rotation for a while. He earned it in a 7-6 victory over the Braves at Nationals Park on Saturday night.
Lopez, the Nationals' No. 3 prospect according to MLBPipeline.com, pitched seven solid innings, allowing one run on five hits and striking out two. He got off to a slow start by allowing a homer to Freddie Freeman in the first inning, but then shut the Braves down the rest of the way. Not bad, considering it was 96 degrees at first pitch.
"That was not the easiest conditions, as we saw last night with [Stephen] Strasburg. To give up the homer in the first and then go seven in those conditions was impressive," first baseman Daniel Murphy said about Lopez. "What a great start by him."
Lopez even showed how tough he was in the fifth. The Braves had runners on first and second with one out, but Jace Peterson hit into a force play and A.J. Pierzynski grounded out to end the threat.
The outing was the antithesis of his previous two big leagues starts in which he allowed a combined nine runs in 8 2/3 innings.
"He was consistent today, he was working down the zone. That's why he did a great job today," catcher Pedro Severino said. "The pitch that was working for him was the fastball down in the zone. The changeup was great today. He made all the pitches down in the zone."
Asked if Lopez earned another start, which would be Thursday against the Braves in Atlanta, manager Dusty Baker hesitated and said, "probably." The Nationals have been looking for a fifth starter since right-hander Joe Ross went on the disabled list because of right shoulder inflammation on July 3. For a while, the Nationals have been going with Lopez and Lucas Giolito -- the Nats' top-rated prospect. Now it looks like Lopez will be the fifth starter until Ross is activated from the DL. Baker was raving about Lopez's performance.
"It's a great performance," Baker said. "He was mixing his breaking ball, changeup. He was locating his fastball. Sevy [Severino] called a great game for him. [Pitching coach] Mike Maddux gave him an outstanding game plan and Lopez executed the plan. It was a real fine performance."
After Lopez was able to get Ender Inciarte to hit into a double play to end the seventh, Murphy gave Lopez the game ball.
"He shook my hand, gave me the ball, and he said, 'Take the ball, you won the game today.' And that was a great feeling," Lopez said.
Bill Ladson has covered the Nationals/Expos for MLB.com since 2002 and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.