Electric Lopez gives Nats' 'pen needed rest

Rookie strikes out 11 over 7 innings in best start of young career

August 19th, 2016

ATLANTA -- No one had to tell Nationals right-hander what he had to do on Thursday night against the Braves at Turner Field. He had to go deep in the game because Washington's bullpen was spent. It had pitched a combined 16 1/3 innings during the three-game series against the Rockies. Not one starter went five innings in that series.

Lopez, the Nationals' No. 3 prospect and the No. 44 overall prospect in baseball, did just that and his stuff was electric in an 8-2 victory over Atlanta. It was the second time in less than a week that Lopez had faced the Braves. In both games, he went seven innings, but in Thursday's start he had a lot more confidence. In fact, during the beginning of the game, he felt like a caged animal.

"I wanted to get out there and be very aggressive, and I was and I was very effective," Lopez said. "Even in the games in Colorado, I was telling myself I was going to throw seven or eight innings and give the [relievers] a break. That was my mentality after seeing what was going on in Colorado."

Was Lopez overaggressive? At one point in the game, Lopez struck out seven of eight hitters, finishing with 11 strikeouts in seven innings. 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 helped that Lopez works well with catcher , which dates back to their days in the Minor Leagues.

"I had several starts with him in the lower levels and he knows me very well," Lopez said. "He knows certain pitches I like to throw in certain counts, so I don't have to shake him off very much and it makes it flow a lot easier for us."