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Jul 7, 2024 3:16 am

In quest for back-to-back wins, Phillies rookie to face Braves

Michael Mercado

The Atlanta Braves will send nine-year veteran Reynaldo Lopez to the mound on Sunday to face Philadelphia Phillies rookie Michael Mercado in the rubber game of the three-game series between the top teams in the National League East.

The teams have split the first two games, with the Phillies winning 8-6 on Friday and the Braves prevailing 5-1 on Saturday. Atlanta leads the season series 3-2, but Philadelphia holds a nine-game lead in the division.

Mercado (1-0, 1.50) will be making the third appearance, and the second start, of his major league career. He picked up his first win on Tuesday against the Chicago Cubs when he pitched five innings and allowed one run on two hits and two walks. He struck out four.

“That tells you a little bit about his makeup and his poise,” Philadelphia manager Rob Thomson said.

It had been 17 years since a Phillies pitcher allowed no more than two hits and one run in five-plus innings in his first major league start. The last was Fabio Castro in 2007.

“It was one of those things that you dream about doing at a place this historic,” Mercado said.

Lopez (6-2, 1.83 ERA) continues to reward the Braves for making the decision to convert him back into a starting pitcher. Atlanta has gone out of its way to avoid placing additional stress on Lopez by giving him plenty of time between starts. Of his 15 starts, only one has come with four days rest. He has pitched with six days rest on six occasions.

The patient approach has paid off. As a starter, Lopez has pitched to a 1.83 ERA, which would be the best in the National League. But Lopez is a few innings short of meeting the standard to qualify among the league leaders.

“We’ve (given Lopez additional rest) more than we thought we were going to (after) spring training, and it’s worked pretty well,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said. “But it’s just not a perfect thing, where they’re not going to have to pitch on regular rest sometimes.”

Lopez is coming off a subpar performance against the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday. He pitched only 4 1/3 innings, his shortest start of the season, because he needed a season-high 101 pitches. He allowed two runs on four hits with four walks and six strikeouts and received a no-decision.

“Any pitcher has one of those days where you’re just not feeling it,” Lopez said. “I wouldn’t say it’s fatigue. I felt great. I just don’t think I had it. It’s frustrating, for sure.”

Lopez has made three appearances, one of them as a starter, against Philadelphia, going 1-0 with a 4.50 ERA. He made two relief appearances against the Phillies in 2023 but hasn’t started against them since 2019.

Atlanta’s Marcell Ozuna and Ozzie Albies have each homered in both games of the series. Ozuna has 23 homers and leads the National League with 72 RBIs.

Philadelphia’s Nick Castellanos extended his hitting streak to eight games with a single on Saturday. Shortstop Trea Turner has hit in six straight and is batting .444 (12-for-27) during that stretch.

The Phillies are 5-3 since Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber were placed on the injured list. Schwarber is expected to return on Tuesday when the Phillies return home to start a three-game series with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

–Field Level Media

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