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Prospect Lopez attacks strike zone to win debut

June 30, 2018

MIAMI -- It only took four pitches for rookie Pablo Lopez to experience the highs and lows of life in the big leagues.The 22-year-old right-hander on Saturday made his Major League debut, and it got off to a sizzling start, with a three-pitch strikeout of Brandon Nimmo. Before Lopez could

MIAMI -- It only took four pitches for rookie Pablo Lopez to experience the highs and lows of life in the big leagues.
The 22-year-old right-hander on Saturday made his Major League debut, and it got off to a sizzling start, with a three-pitch strikeout of Brandon Nimmo. Before Lopez could savor the moment, his very next pitch was smacked out of the park by Jose Bautista.
Like that, moods and momentum change in the big leagues. Showing maturity beyond his age, Lopez impressed in six innings, and his teammates eventually picked him up. Brian Anderson belted a two-run homer and J.T. Realmuto delivered a two-run double in the Marlins' 5-2 comeback victory over the Mets at Marlins Park.
"We got back to the dugout and said, 'Welcome to the big leagues, kid!'" Realmuto said of Lopez's first inning. "You're on top of the world the first three pitches, and the next time, homer. But after that, he made great pitches."

In the first two games of the series, the Marlins showcased two of their top pitching prospects. On Friday, Sandy Alcantara, the club's No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline, made his first big league start, and he gave up one run in five innings in an 8-2 win. Lopez was the victor on Saturday, throwing 97 pitches (71 strikes).
"I'm extremely happy with the way it went, with the atmosphere on the field and the atmosphere in the clubhouse with my teammates," Lopez said. "It's something I will cherish for the rest of my life. Having the opportunity to play at this level is already something magical, and special doing it at this level with these teammates and this atmosphere is unbelievable."
According to Stats LLC, the last time two pitchers on the same National League team earned wins in their first career starts on consecutive days was Gary Nolan and Mel Queen of the Reds, on April 15-16, 1967.
"There was a lot of yelling and screaming over the course of the winter," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said of the team's direction to build from the Minor Leagues on up. "We've talked about building something with pitching. It started at the Trade Deadline last year."

The Marlins acquired Lopez from the Mariners last July as part of the David Phelps trade.
"These guys seem like they're a long way away in A ball, but then they're knocking on the door, and you get a look at what they could be," Mattingly said.
After surrendering a home run to Bautista in the first inning, Lopez was in control. At one point, he retired eight of nine before Todd Frazier homered on an 0-2 pitch in the sixth.
Getting the nod on Saturday had some extra meaning for Lopez, a native of Venezuela. It was Venezuelan Heritage Day at Marlins Park, and Lopez's father and some family members were in attendance.

Ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Marlins' No. 20 prospect, Lopez has arguably been the organization's top pitching prospect this season. The slender right-hander certainly has the numbers to back up the claim.
At Double-A Jacksonville, Lopez posted an eye-opening 0.62 ERA with 51 strikeouts and eight walks in 43 2/3 innings. After dominating in the Southern League, Lopez got promoted to Triple-A New Orleans, where the sledding got a little tougher. His ERA was 3.38 in four starts spanning 18 2/3 innings.
More than the numbers, the Marlins tracked the quality of Lopez's stuff and his mound presence. All the intangibles also checked boxes.
On Saturday, Lopez was able to show he belongs, and in the process came out on the winning end against Jacob deGrom, the Majors ERA leader.
"He's so good, and he's the best at what he does," Lopez said of deGrom. "But our guys are good, too, and they put together great at-bats in that sixth inning."

The way deGrom was throwing, the Marlins were having trouble getting hits. But they were able to break through with one out in the sixth inning. Derek Dietrich singled, and Anderson turned on a changeup, blistering a game-tying, two-run homer to left.
"He's a great pitcher," Anderson said of deGrom. "He's got great stuff. He was locating, it seemed like everything early in the game. Keeping the ball down, elevating when he needed to. We just kind of kept putting together good at-bats, and eventually we were able to take advantage of some mistakes."

The Marlins plugged away. After Justin Bour walked and went to third on Starlin Castro's single, JT Riddle tapped a swinging-bunt single, and he avoided the tag by first baseman Wilmer Flores.
"Off the bat, you see it's kind of like a swinging bunt," Riddle said. "It's kind of in no-man's land. Run hard, try to beat the first baseman."

Drew Steckenrider pitched a perfect eighth, extending his career-best scoreless streak to 15 2/3 innings. The right-hander did not allow a run in 14 appearances in June.
Closer Kyle Barraclough worked a perfect ninth for his eighth save. Barraclough allowed just one hit in the month of June, and he has a scoreless innings streak of 20 2/3, second longest in the Majors.

"Not in last place? Awesome. It's baseball. We've got a good ballclub. We're coming together and playing good baseball. We've got good, young guys, and we've got veteran guys who have been around. We're coming together. There's three months left. There's still ground, and still time to make up that ground."
-- Riddle, on passing the Mets and moving into fourth place in the NL East
Dan Straily returns from his five-game suspension to face the Mets at 1:10 p.m. ET on Sunday in the series finale at Marlins Park. The Marlins' right-hander comes off a win over the D-backs on Monday, giving up three runs in 6 1/3 innings. Lifetime against New York, he is 1-1 with a 3.04 ERA in five starts. Steven Matz goes for the Mets.

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.