When the calendar turned to June for Reynaldo Lopez last year, he put together the best month of his six-year professional career and eventually earned his first promotion to the big leagues. This year with a new organization, June represented more of a trying time for MLB.com's No. 37 prospect until Thursday's dominant performance.
Lopez (6-4) struck out 11 over 6 2/3 innings in Triple-A Charlotte's 4-1 victory over Columbus at BB&T Ballpark. The fifth-ranked White Sox prospect allowed a run on six hits -- the only score coming on a solo shot by Tyler Naquin.
"He had very good command of all pitches and he threw the ball very well," Knights pitching coach Steve McCatty said. "Everybody tends to think, 'If I do something great this time, I might go to big leagues.' But that's not necessarily the way it works, but for him to go out and have a big game, it sure helps your confidence."
Gameday box score
The 23-year-old fell two shy of his career high for strikeouts in a single game, a feat he accomplished twice with Double-A Harrisburg last June. Through 15 starts this season, Lopez sports a 4.22 ERA with 79 strikeouts and 34 free passes over 81 innings while holding opposing batters to a .236 average.
The native of the Dominican Republic landed in the White Sox system as part of a package that included the team's fourth-ranked prospect, Lucas Giolito, and No. 11 Dane Dunning in a deal that sent outfielder Adam Eaton to the Nationals in December.
Coming into Thursday's start, Lopez's numbers stood in stark contrast with his June production last year. He gave up 12 runs with just eight strikeouts while walking seven over 15 1/3 frames for Charlotte opposed to the 1.57 ERA with 44 whiffs in 28 2/3 frames last season between Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse.
Video: Knights' Lopez notches 11th strikeout
The right-hander notched at least one strikeout in all of his innings Thursday, but dealt with runners on base in five different frames. McCatty said Lopez's experience in the Majors, specifically in the playoffs, helped him compartmentalize the pressure of dealing with runners on.
"I think he's a pretty confident kid," the coach said. "He did a very nice job. It didn't bother him, he was quick to the plate, made his pitches and was very confident and very focused."
Lopez gave up singles to Ronny Rodriguez and Richie Shaffer in the first inning, but got Eric Stamets to go down looking to end the threat. McCatty credited Lopez's ability to set up strikeouts to his "above-average" fastball, changing speeds off his best pitch with a curveball and changeup.
"You see a fastball out of his hands and you have to respect the velocity," McCatty said. "He had real good bite on it tonight and you've got to commit early. Let's say there's probably a strikeout pitch, but he elevated some fastballs and struck guys out."
Lopez sandwiched a walk to Nellie Rodriguez around strikeouts of Chris Colabello and Jeremy Lucas to get through the second. He got ahead in the count on Naquin to start the third, but the 2016 American League Rookie of the Year finalist got the barrel to a back-door slider and lofted it over the fence in left-center field.
"He did not hit the ball well. He just put a short, quick swing on it," McCatty said, mentioning that the smaller ballpark in Charlotte kept the ball from landing in an outfielder's glove. "I have respect for the guy. He hit a nice pitch, he hit it the other way, towards the left field line and that's how it carried out.
"Sometimes you got to tip your hat to him, but it wasn't a ball that as soon as he hit it I was going, 'Uh-oh, it's out.' But it went out. So you make a good pitch, you make contact, that's part of the game."
Lopez notched two more punchouts to get through the third and worked around base hits by Stamets in the fourth and Ronny Rodriguez in the fifth before recording a clean sixth on nine pitches.
He went back out for the seventh having already thrown 91 pitches. Lopez fanned Colabello and got Nellie Rodriguez to go down looking to start the inning. A bloop single to Lucas concluded his outing after 102 pitches, 71 for strikes.
Nicky Delmonico homered and scored twice on a three-hit night and baseball's top prospect Yoan Moncada singled and walked twice for Charlotte.