López leads way before Braves get good news on injury front

May 14th, 2024

ATLANTA -- constructed yet another scoreless start and Zack Short introduced himself to Braves fans by tallying the game-winning double in a 2-0 win over the Cubs on Monday night at Truist Park.

But the most important developments were provided during Braves manager Brian Snitker’s postgame address, when he gave an Austin Riley update and also revealed López was pulled after five innings only because of back tightness.

“He’ll be fine,” Snitker said. “We don’t expect him to miss his next start. We’ll treat him up and everything.”

When López takes MLB’s second-best ERA (1.34) to the mound for his next start this weekend, there’s now a good chance Riley will be back in the lineup. The Braves third baseman received good news on Monday, when a MRI exam showed his left side discomfort is just a product of inflammation.

“If it’s just showing inflammation, it’s a good thing,” Snitker said. “It’s just going to be maintenance and a day-to-day type of thing.”

Snitker was even more optimistic about the ailment López incurred while allowing two hits and pitching around a pair of fifth-inning walks over five scoreless innings. The right-hander’s back started to bother him in the second, but the discomfort wasn’t significant enough for him to stop pitching.

“I just kind of kept feeling it and eventually I told something to Snit and told them I wanted to keep pitching,” López said. “But they’re more concerned about the long term.”

It’s apparent the Braves have something special in López, who has rewarded the team’s decision to convert him back to a starting role for the first time since 2021. His last full season as a starter was actually in 2019. But the transition has exceeded everyone’s expectations, including those of one of his cousins.

“I had one of my cousins call me this morning and he said, 'You know what, today I’m going to find out how good you are,’” López said. “'You’re going to go up against one of the better starters in the league. So I want to see what you’re made of today.' I think I was able to shut him up a little bit.”

López’s mound counterpart on Monday was Shota Imanaga, who had an MLB-leading 0.96 ERA after tossing five scoreless innings against Atlanta. The game’s top two ERA leaders certainly didn’t disappoint with this matchup.

"Reynaldo López is off to every bit of a start that Shota's off to and he's been very, very effective,” Cubs manager Craig Counsell said. “López was tough. And their bullpen guys, I thought they threw the ball well.”

The Braves have to keep an eye on the big picture regarding López, who didn’t throw more than 66 innings in either of the past two seasons. Some well-placed off-days have allowed the Braves to give the former reliever at least six days of rest before five of his seven starts. Consequently, he’s made two fewer starts than many other MLB pitchers this year.

López’s 1.34 ERA puts him in pretty good company. The only other Braves pitchers of the Atlanta era (since 1966) to post a lower ERA while making nothing but starts through the first seven appearances of a season are Michael Soroka (1.01 in 2019), Greg Maddux (0.94 in 1994) and Tom Glavine (0.93 in 2002).

“I expected a little longer of an adjustment period, but I just feel very grateful for the way things have been going,” López said.

The Braves got all the offensive support they needed when Travis d’Arnaud and Short tallied consecutive two-out doubles off Hayden Wesneski in the sixth. Ronald Acuña Jr. added an RBI single to cap the two-run frame. Acuña’s key contribution came after he was picked off first base in the first inning. Going back to Sunday’s loss to the Mets, it marked the third straight time he had been picked off first after reaching safely.

“What can I say, I was definitely caught by surprise when I got picked off,” Acuña said through an interpreter. “There’s no excuse for it. It's part of the game, but like I said, there's no excuse and those are missed opportunities for the team and it's just something that I've got to get better at.”

Speaking of surprises, López has been one of the game’s biggest this year. But as he has further reacquainted himself to the starting role, he appears to be right where he needs to be.