How Braves’ Nicky Lopez has improved at the plate since the trade

Orlando Arcia (11) of the Braves celebrates with Nicky Lopez (15) after hitting a solo home run in the top of the sixth inning against the San Francisco Giants at Oracle Park on Aug. 26, 2023, in San Francisco. (Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Orlando Arcia (11) of the Braves celebrates with Nicky Lopez (15) after hitting a solo home run in the top of the sixth inning against the San Francisco Giants at Oracle Park on Aug. 26, 2023, in San Francisco. (Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images/TNS)

LOS ANGELES — Hours before Thursday night’s series opener at Dodger Stadium, a reporter asked Nicky Lopez how he goes about trying to simulate live at-bats while not playing for lengthy stretches of time.

“That’s actually the difficult part about it, I think,” Lopez said.

Then he went through his process. He’ll work in the batting cage and will hit off the pitching machine. He might ask Kevin Seitzer or Bobby Magallanes – the Braves’ hitting coaches – to throw pitches and imitate different aspects of a pitcher, like working from the stretch.

In the game, Lopez went 2-for-4 with a walk. He drove in a run. He scored three runs. The Braves defeated the Dodgers.

This was yet another example of Lopez’s success since the Braves traded for him two days before the deadline. To this point, he’s probably exceeded expectations. When the Braves have needed Lopez – as when Ozzie Albies hit the injured list – he’s provided them with solid production.

Since the trade, Lopez is batting .333. He has a double, a home run and 11 RBIs over 39 at-bats.

“He’s probably a better player than I thought we were getting, quite honestly,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.

Since Alex Anthopoulos became the Braves’ general manager, the team has posted a lengthy track record of developing players. The Braves don’t have a secret sauce. The success seems to come from a mix of terrific coaching and applicable analytical information.

Whatever it is, the Braves are doing it well.

“When I came here, they taught me a lot of stuff that I’ve been working on,” Lopez said. “It’s kind of funny – then in the game, I try and go and do it, and it’s been working really well. I’m actually working on a lot of stuff while I go into the game. It’s been working.”

The most encouraging part might be this:

“The swing is there,” Lopez said. “In ‘21, I had a really good season, so they actually looked at my swing from then to now, and there’s not that much difference. It’s more maybe putting myself in a good spot to hit – which is good. So as long as I know that the swing is there, which is good, then I can build off of that.”

Lopez has worked on his bat path. He’s also focused on making his movements smoother.

In other words, he seeks to move more efficiently at the plate.

“If you’re gonna move, you want to move in a positive way instead of just having a lot of filler movements,” Lopez said. “So, just kind of smooth back and smooth forward. It’s actually cool. They noticed something with my hands as well – just trying to loosen my hands, which causes actually a little bit more going toward the ball, and the ball’s actually coming off the bat a little bit harder, too, which is awesome. They’ve helped me a ton since I’ve been here. I’m just trying to do it when I get in the game.”

And he has successfully implemented these improvements in games, which has been the most satisfying part of it all.

“And that’s the biggest thing is I knew coming here that I wasn’t gonna play too much,” Lopez said. “But any opportunity I can get, I have to take advantage of it. And to be able to start up hot and have some success, even when working on new things, and just trying to do that in the game and seeing it pay off, has been huge. It’s been a big confidence boost for me. The cool thing is that we’re doing this in season, so we’re just getting started, which is awesome. I can’t wait to keep working with them.”

And because they are doing all of this in the season, that should mean there is much more growth to come this offseason.

“You obviously don’t want to look toward the offseason, especially when the offseason might be a little bit later this year that it has most years,” said Lopez, who is playing for a contender for the first time in his career. “But just knowing that what we’re working on, and then going out and doing it in the game and seeing it work, it excites me and obviously gives me that confidence knowing that if I do go through a whole offseason learning this stuff, what can we do? Anybody will say: It’s tough learning things during the season and trying to do it during the season and to be able to do that has given me a big confidence boost for sure.”

Braves option Darius Vines

The Braves on Saturday announced they optioned Darius Vines to Triple-A Gwinnett. They recalled right-hander Ben Heller to take his place.

The Braves went with the extra reliever over Vines, who started Wednesday’s game in Colorado. Vines was in line to start Tuesday, and Snitker said that originally was the plan. Vines traveled to Los Angeles with the club.

It appears that plans changed.

“We’ll just deal with Tuesday when we get there,” Snitker said. “But for two days, it’s good to have that extra body down there. Whether or not we use him, I don’t know. But at least it’s an option there.”