WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Pablo Lopez was 10 years old when Anibal Sanchez, one of his childhood idols in Venezuela, threw a no-hitter against the D-backs as a rookie with the Marlins in 2006.
On Saturday, Lopez, who turned 23 on Thursday, tossed four perfect innings for the Marlins in their 2-1 win over the Nationals at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Sanchez, now 35, tossed four shutout innings for Washington.
“I grew up watching him pitch,” Lopez said. “It’s always a pleasure and an honor to face a countryman like him. I was very excited to see him on the mound.”
Both Venezuelan natives were on point on Saturday. But from a Marlins perspective, Lopez had the finest performance of any starter this Spring Training.
The right-hander had his fastball clocked as high as 96 mph, and his curveball and changeup were the best they’ve been this spring. Lopez struck out four, and he threw 50 pitches, with 34 strikes. He retired all 12 batters he faced.
“Obviously, Pablo was really good,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “He was aggressive coming out of the box. Good breaking balls. His changeup was good. There was nothing really bad about it.”
A year ago, Lopez was one of the stories of Spring Training for the Marlins, and he opened at Double-A Jacksonville. He eventually made it to Triple-A and the big leagues at 22. With Miami, he had 10 starts and went 2-4 with a 4.14 ERA.
Lopez missed all of September due to a sore right shoulder.
But in Spring Training, he's been stronger and has impressed all camp as he competes for a rotation spot. Also in the mix is lefty Wei-Yin Chen, who allowed one hit in four innings of relief on Saturday.
The development of Lopez's offspeed pitches may determine how quickly he will be in the big leagues to stay.
“It’s come a long way from when we saw more of a rolling breaking ball to more of the one he can throw,” Mattingly said. “You’re not seeing any difference in the arm speed. I think everything is kind of going with that.”
Grandy first hit
Curtis Granderson was hitless in 10 Grapefruit League at-bats before connecting on a two-out, solo home run off Aaron Barrett in the fifth inning.
The 38-year-old has been easing into game action after being slowed by a tight right calf muscle earlier in camp.
A non-roster invitee, Granderson is expected to make the Opening Day roster. The veteran led off and was the designated hitter on Saturday.
After going hitless with a strikeout in two at-bats against Sanchez, Granderson faced Barrett. He left little doubt with his drive over the wall in right-center.
“A result like that is always good, but the big thing is continue working, and trying to find ways to improve,” Granderson said.
Smith set for Wednesday
The Grapefruit League debut for Caleb Smith is set for Wednesday against the Cardinals at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium.
Recovering from surgery to repair a torn left lat muscle, Smith has been building up his pitch count in simulated games on back fields at the complex. The left-hander threw the equivalent of four innings and logged around 60 pitches on Friday.
The question is if Smith will be ready for Opening Day on March 28 against the Rockies at Marlins Park. Actually, Jose Urena has been announced as the starter for the first game, and technically, Miami could add Smith at any point after that.
“He’s pretty much on track, pitch-wise,” Mattingly said. “It’s just getting that same energy.”
With Smith, it’s not a matter of if he will be in the rotation, it’s a matter of when.
“We’re trying to get him built up first, and get him on the field,” Mattingly said. “He will be on the field a couple of times.”
The Marlins are back at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium on Sunday at 1:05 p.m. ET to take on the Braves. Sandy Alcantara, in the mix for a rotation spot, goes for the Marlins. Julio Teheran gets the start for Atlanta.