The cruel nature of baseball is such that any potential feel-good story can easily be spoiled if the other team is uncooperative. Just ask the Nationals; it would have been a great moment had 22-year-old right hander Reynaldo Lopez' major-league debut went swimmingly, but instead the Los Angeles Dodgers gave him a rude greeting to “The Show” during Tuesday night’s 8-4 loss.
The disappointing result didn’t take all the shine away from Lopez, however. After the game, the Dominican-born right hander was still basking in the afterglow of his first experience in the big leagues.
“It’s something incredible,” said a smiling Lopez through an interpreter. “You always work hard to get here. It’s something incredible because I started from the bottom and you never think you’re going to be here. Thank God, with the work I did, thank God we’re here.”
Indeed, Lopez’ arrival to the majors is a long time coming for both him and the organization. Acquired as an 18-year-old international free agent in 2012, he became the first “homegrown” Dominican-born signee to make his debut with the Nats. His presence not only represents a stepping stone in the franchise’s international development efforts, but he also acts as an example for future signees of where they could end up if they successfully work their way up the organization’s farm system.
“It’s huge,” GM Mike Rizzo said before Tuesday’s game. “It goes without saying that we’re proud of what we’re doing. I pulled [Nats VP of International Operations] Johnny DiPuglia off the road to be here tonight, because he’s earned it….we sign these players at a young age and we hand them over to player development and they mold them in the Nationals way, and this is a prime example of what you can do when you have good scouts signing good players.”
When asked for his initial reaction to his promotion, Lopez stood at his locker with his arms crossed, shaking his head as he reenacted the moment he found out he was finally making the jump from Triple-A Syracuse to the majors.
“I was left, like, frozen,” he said. “I was frozen. And they told me, ‘No, congratulations.’ And I was, like, frozen. Woah.”
As for the start itself, the numbers won’t say it — he lasted just 4 2/3 innings while allowing six runs on 10 hits — but there were moments on the night where he showed glimpses of the high upside the Nats believe he has. His fastball reached 99 mph, which the Dodgers pounced on in the early innings to go up 4-0. But in his final two-plus frames, he settled down after he began utilizing his slider and change up to get strikeouts. In all, he had nine punchouts — second in Nats history for a debut to Stephen Strasburg’s memorable start in 2010.
“He’s got really good stuff,” Daniel Murphy said of Lopez. “That is a veteran lineup over there that I think were able to expose some of his mistakes…I thought to give up four runs in the first two innings and then settle down, throw up two zeroes, speaks a lot about him.”
“He was pretty cool, especially in your first start, facing adversity,” added Dusty Baker. “Being in trouble, I'm sure it shocked him right away to have your first big league hitter hit the ball out of the ballpark.”
It's clear that Lopez’ stay in the big-league rotation is only temporary, with Joe Ross expected off the 15-day disabled list as early as next week. And while no one would certainly call Tuesday's start a successful one, the Nats will opt to take a look at the positives and ponder a future in which flame-throwing right hander is a permanent member of the starting staff.
"He's young, this is the big leagues, and you're facing big-league hitters," Baker said. "But he's very bright. Just gotta tighten up a few things. I think he'll be here for a long time."