Reynaldo López - Braves’ best starter this season - shines again in win over Astros

Reynaldo Lopez got the start for the Braves Tuesday against the Astros in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)

Credit: Michael Wyke

Credit: Michael Wyke

Reynaldo Lopez got the start for the Braves Tuesday against the Astros in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)

HOUSTON – Remember when we talked about whether Reynaldo López was more valuable as a starting pitcher or reliever?

Three outings into his season, it appears the Braves made the correct decision. He’s been their best starter to this point.

López on Tuesday led Atlanta to a 6-2 victory over the Astros. The Braves have won the series, and will go for the sweep on Wednesday afternoon.

Five observations:

1. Be honest: Many of you didn’t think López would look this good in his return to starting.

And that’s okay. It was difficult to see this coming – even for López. He believed in himself, but who could’ve predicted that he’d allow only one run over 18 innings in his first three starts?

“Yeah, if I’m being completely honest, I felt physically and mentally prepared for how this was gonna go, but I didn’t expect to have the type of results that I’ve had,” López said through interpreter Franco García. “To be fair to myself, I think I was expecting a little bit more of a progression as I continued to (become accustomed again) to this role. But I’m not gonna lie, I’m extremely happy with the results so far. Thankfully, it’s been going the way it’s been going.”

And in fairness to López, the situation he laid out seemed most likely: He would be a decent starter in the season’s first few weeks, then he would get more acclimated and would start rolling. It was always going to take him some time.

Or not.

On Tuesday, López toed the rubber in front of another excited crowd and held the Astros scoreless over six innings. He struck out seven and walked one. He gave up only four hits.

This was no fluke. López looked in control. The Astros pressured him a couple times, but the righty remained calm. López had at least one runner on base in each of the first four frames, but never crumbled.

There are probably many reasons López has experienced such a seamless transition back to starting, so let’s ask his catcher.

“He’s a pitcher – he’s not a thrower,” catcher Chadwick Tromp said. “He’s very smart. He studies. He has a good pregame routine. He’s committed to his pitches. He’s committed to his mind and I think when he’s out there, he believes in himself, and I think that confidence shows every time that he gets on the mound – no matter who it is.

“(The Astros) have seen him before. And we know that. All that goes into place when we prep for a game. But all credit to him. He did a really good job today. That’s a tough lineup over there, that’s a good team – has been good for years. He keeps delivering, and I’m confident that he’s gonna keep delivering for us the whole year.”

2. A question: How long will the Braves be able to keep López in the rotation?

The Braves might not even know this yet. But they’ll need to answer it eventually.

With Tuesday’s outing, López is at 18 innings this season. That’s a sizable chunk of his reliever workload from the past few seasons.

López’s innings totals, in order, from 2021 through last season: 57 2/3, 65 1/3, 66.

If he were to remain healthy and pitch in the rotation all season, López would more than double his workload from the past few years as a reliever. This is why the assumption has been that Atlanta will move him into the bullpen at some point.

Asked how he might approach being ready for October, and the role he might serve then, López said: “Just keep doing what I’m doing and putting that focus on recovery. I think that’s just gonna be really helpful. And then, as far as October, it’s whatever I’m told. Whether it’s starter, closer, reliever, the only thing that matters to me is winning, the only thing that matters to this team is winning. The goal is to ultimately win the World Series.”

López has had six full days of rest in between each start. “And we’ve given him extra days, so we’ll probably continue to do that every chance we can, just to help with all that,” manager Brian Snitker said.

And if the Braves can continue giving him extra rest, could he be in the rotation all season, or is it assumed he’ll move into the bullpen at some point?

“I don’t think we’ve ever even approached that subject,” Snitker said.

3. For the second time in as many nights, the Braves turned a close game into a laugher. On Tuesday, the ballpark began clearing out during another ninth-inning outburst.

Just like Monday, the Braves scored four runs in the ninth. But this time, the Braves had to bring in Raisel Iglesias because Aaron Bummer couldn’t get the final three outs in a six-run game. Iglesias recorded the last out.

In the top of the ninth, facing Astros righty Shawn Dubin, Marcell Ozuna singled to extend his hitting streak to 15 games. Orlando Arcia and Jarred Kelenic hit singles of their own.

The Braves then got contributions from their depth: Backups Luis Guillorme and Chadwick Tromp hit two-run doubles, one after the other.

Before this, the Braves led by two runs, both from Arcia – one on a solo homer in the second inning, the other on a sacrifice fly in the seventh.

4. Tromp has received praise from Chris Sale, a seven-time All-Star who was once a perennial Cy Young Award candidate. On Tuesday, López lauded Tromp.

“Tremendous catcher, and tremendous game-caller, the way he calls the pitches down there,” he said. “Really have to praise all the work he puts in. Prior to the game, he’s in there scouting, analyzing that starter and the at-bats that he’s had against that lineup previously. He comes up with a good gameplan and then not just those things, but the way he communicates.”

5. Entering Tuesday, the Braves’ rotation had combined for a 5.28 ERA over the season’s first 15 games. This ranked 26th in the sport.

The teams below Atlanta in this category: White Sox, Twins, Nationals, Rockies. All are worse than the Braves.

Atlanta has dealt with an injury to Spencer Strider that made everyone else in the rotation that much more important. López has delivered in his three starts.

The first: One earned run over six innings in Chicago against the White Sox.

The second: Six scoreless innings against the Mets at Truist Park.

The third: Six scoreless innings in Houston versus the Astros.

López has a 0.50 ERA. He’s pitched better than anyone expected.

Stat to know

8 in 16 - On Tuesday, the Astros whiffed eight times on 16 swings versus López’s slider. His stuff produced 14 whiffs on 45 swings. This is only the fourth time in his career that López has gotten at least eight whiffs on his slider in a game, according to Baseball Savant.


“Have you seen that guy, how he’s built? He’s built like a stallion. I don’t think he feels it. I’m going to be very honest with you: I don’t think he even feels it. I think he’s just throwing it out, like, effortlessly.”-Tromp on López’s ability to keep throwing hard deep into his starts

Up next

On Wednesday, left-hander Max Fried will pitch against the Astros, who’ll start righty J.P France. The series finale begins at 2:10 p.m.