Nats ride rookie Lopez's 11 K's to win over Braves
By Bill Ladson and Mark Bowman
ATLANTA -- There's no other way to say it: Nationals right-hander Reynaldo Lopez was electric in an 8-2 victory over the Braves on Thursday night at Turner Field.
It started with Lopez's fastball, which was clocked as high as 98 mph. He ended up with 11 strikeouts in seven innings, while allowing two runs (one earned) on four hits. It was the first double-digit strikeout game of Lopez's career, and he is just the fourth rookie in Nats history to strike out at least 10 in a game.
"He was dynamite," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "He had his breaking ball working and he spotted his fastball where he wanted to throw it."
It was the second time in less than a week that Lopez had faced the Braves. In both games, the Nationals' No. 3 prospect and the No. 44 overall prospect in baseball went seven innings, but he had a lot more confidence Thursday.
"I wanted to get out there and be very aggressive, and I was and I was very effective," Lopez said.
It looked like Whalen was going to get out of the first inning unscathed, but Anthony Rendon hit a routine fly ball to left fielder Matt Kemp, who dropped the ball as Trea Turner and Bryce Harper scored to give Washington a 2-0 lead.
The Nationals took a 3-1 lead in the fifth when Pedro Severino scored on a double by Jayson Werth, who extended his on-base streak to 46 games to tie Rusty Staub's franchise record.
Things turned ugly for Atlanta in the eighth, when the Nationals put the game away with five runs off relievers Arodys Vizcaino and Mauricio Cabrera. The Braves have lost seven of their past eight games.
"We need to play better all the way around," Kemp said. "We've had chances to win games. We've just got to play better, show these teams we're capable of winning games. When I first got here, we were playing really good baseball, and that's the team I think we're capable of being. We've just got to be consistent with it."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Bullpen needed a rest: In their previous three games, the Nationals' bullpen pitched a combined 16 1/3 innings against the Rockies. Lopez gave the bullpen exactly what it needed. He pitched seven strong innings, before Shawn Kelley and Mark Melancon blanked the Braves over the final two frames.
"Our bullpen needed a rest at the same time," Baker said. "Our guys are kind of spent after that long rain delay, the early game the next day, then we come back across the country. I hope my guys get a good night's sleep tonight." More >
Kemp's blunder: The Braves recognize the concerns about Kemp's defense in left field, but the veteran's inability to secure Rendon's routine fly ball with two outs in the first inning appeared to simply be a lapse in concentration that accounted for two unearned runs. Whalen retired 10 of the next 11 batters he faced, but he encountered some misfortune when Werth got his bat on a 3-2 slider and then watched his decisive RBI double hug the left-field line.
"I just dropped the ball," Kemp said. "Unacceptable. It changed the mode of the game right there. Robbie pitched a great game. I didn't help him out by dropping that ball."
Werth going through a nice stretch: Werth's run is the longest on-base streak since Joey Votto went 48 games from Aug. 11 to Oct. 2, 2015. Werth has 43 hits and 32 walks during that span. More >
Ugly eighth: Doubles recorded by Kemp and Freddie Freeman led to the Braves plating runs and pulling within one, but that small deficit quickly widened during a five-run eighth that began with Vizcaino making his first appearance since straining his right oblique on July 15. Vizcaino didn't retire any of the four batters he faced, allowing a single, issuing two walks and hitting Rendon with a pitch. Cabrera surrendered a hit, issued a walk and was burdened by a Jace Peterson error. The two relievers combined to throw 41 pitches (21 strikes).
"[Vizcaino] wasn't missing bad," Braves catcher Tyler Flowers said. "There were a couple balls up and a couple balls down. Honestly, the misses were good misses, there were just too many of them. … He's just got to get ahead of guys and put them in a more defensive mode instead of keeping them in the driver's seat." More >
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Since the beginning of the 2015 season, the Nationals are 23-6 against the Braves, outscoring Atlanta, 165-86.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
In the sixth inning, Freeman hit a double with one out, but Baker thought Freeman was out at second base. The call stood as the Nationals lost their challenge.
It looked like Danny Espinosa may have been hit by a pitch by Vizcaino in the eighth. The umpires decided to look at the replay, determining Espinosa was not hit. Later in the at-bat, Espinosa drew a walk.
WHAT'S NEXT Nationals: Right-hander Tanner Roark takes the mound for Washington on Friday at 7:35 p.m. ET. Roark continued to enjoy success against the Braves in his last outing. He gave up one run in seven innings to lower his ERA to 1.77 in nine career starts against Atlanta.
Braves:Julio Teheran will come off the disabled list to oppose Roark and the Nationals at Turner Field. Teheran has been sidelined since July 31 with a right lat strain. He limited Washington to two runs over six innings on Opening Day and then surrendered a season-high six runs over seven innings at Nationals Park on April 14. More >