Reynaldo Lopez Tapped to Round Out Atlanta Braves Rotation

When Reynaldo Lopez signed with the Atlanta Braves, the hope was that he could crack their starting rotation, and he has done so this spring.

Reynaldo López of the Atlanta Braves poses for a photo during the Atlanta Braves Photo Day at CoolToday Park.
NORTH PORT, FL - FEBRUARY 23: Reynaldo López #40 of the Atlanta Braves poses for a photo during the Atlanta Braves Photo Day at CoolToday Park on Friday, February 23, 2024 in North Port, Florida. (Photo by Kelly Gavin/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

The Braves were looking to add depth in both the rotation and bullpen after last season’s disappointing end in the playoffs. Reynaldo Lopez was brought in with the potential to do both.

Reynaldo Lopez may get some usage out of the Braves bullpen at some point, but, from the outset of the 2024 season, he will be manning the fifth spot in the rotation. This role was one of the few seemingly up for grabs on the team this spring, and there were a handful of candidates, including Lopez, up for it from the start.

With his impressive effort during Spring Training, Lopez beat out 2023 All-Star Bryce Elder as well as prized prospects AJ Smith-Shawver and Hurston Waldrep, all of whom will begin the season at Triple-A Gwinnett. At the time of writing, Lopez was sporting a 2.16 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, and 13-to-6 K/BB ratio across 16.2 innings for this preseason.

Paid to be a Prime Contributor

Lopez was an early acquisition for the Braves this past offseason, as he featured the potential to fill either one of two areas that needed additional depth: the rotation or the bullpen. With that, Atlanta general manager Alex Anthopoulos inked the righty to a three-year, $30 million contract.

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That’s not the type of money typically paid a pitcher to work low-leverage, middle-of-the-game innings. Lopez was brought in with the idea that he could turn back into a starter to stabilize the back-end of the club’s rotation or, if that was too tall of a task, get big outs in a setup role.

Lopez has proven in recent years that he is perfectly capable of doing the latter. He turned in a breakout season, at least as a reliever, in 2022 with the White Sox, finishing with a 2.76 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 24.8 K%, and an outstanding 5.73 K/BB ratio across 65.1 innings. Lopez followed that up nicely with a 3.27 ERA, 29.9 K%, and six saves over 66.0 innings while making appearances for three different teams. Those numbers largely earned Lopez the dollars.

Can Lopez Make the Switch Back to Starting?

With Lopez’s only start over the last two seasons coming back on June 10, 2022 when he threw just 24 pitches over two frames, there is certainly going to be a limit on the expected workload in his first year back in a rotation spot.

Anything above 100 frames of solid results should be more than welcome by the Braves’ brass. As alluded to above with Elder, Smith-Shawver, and Waldrep, the organization has a wealth of talent waiting in the wings to pick up the slack.

In any event, it’s not as if Lopez lacks significant experience as a starter. Prior to 2022, 96 of Lopez’s 112 MLB outings had come as a starter. He has twice cleared 180 innings (2018, 2019) in his career, and though he may not come close to that mark this year, it’s worth noting that he knows how to approach the marathon that is the MLB season as a starting pitcher.

A lifetime 4.73 ERA as a starter may not evoke much confidence in fans, but the previously mentioned numbers this spring in addition to the confidence that the Braves’ coaching staff seemingly has in Lopez should.

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Lopez has relied on upper-90s heat to generate much of the success out of the bullpen. One of the questions that always comes up with a hurler attempting to make a transition from relieving to starting is how much it will affect their stuff.

Well, Lopez has been building up the velocity over the course of his outings this spring, and he’s recently been able to sit mid-90s later into his starts. That’s an encouraging sign.

In a Situation to Succeed

Atlanta is a winning environment, and that is not expected to change this season. That, along with a veteran-laden rotation to support him, is just the type of setup to take the pressure off Lopez in this venture to return to starting. There is no extra stress for the 30-year-old to shoulder in regard to anchoring a staff or anything of the sort.

On top of that, should the need arise for Lopez to move back to the pen, where he’s already proven himself, reinforcements are readily available to come up from the farm and take his place.

Regardless of how things play out for Lopez in the early going of the 2024 season, the Braves, as they have with so many during their extended run of success, will find a way to get the best out of him. For the immediate future, the plan for Lopez is to be the final piece of a stacked rotation.