Opening Day of the 2023 MLB season gave us a first look at some of the aces in the league, and a bit of clarity on closer battles. White Sox RHP Reynaldo Lopez and Mariners RHP Andres Muñoz, both of whom were potential favorites for save chances this year, got their first opportunities on March 30.
A Look at Lopez and Muñoz
Both the White Sox and Mariners had questions this past spring, regarding how each would handle the late innings of games. For Chicago, closer Liam Hendriks is out as he is being treated for non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Both Kendall Graveman and Reynaldo Lopez seemed like the obvious candidates to slot in for saves, and Lopez got the first crack on Opening Day.
The 29-year-old Lopez came in during the ninth inning of the White Sox-Astros game on March 30 to hold on to a two-run lead. He did surrender one run — a towering blast off the bat of Yordan Alvarez — and a walk, but did notch the save at the end of the day. Lopez only recorded two swing-and-misses, one of which was on a slider that ended the game.
As for Mariners flamethrower Andres Muñoz, he pitched a scoreless inning in the ninth against the Guardians to record his first save of 2023. That, too, was not a clean finish. The 24-year-old recorded two outs before he yielded a single to Amed Rosario and a double to Jose Ramirez. DH Josh Bell would ground out to end the game.
Muñoz only recorded four saves in 2023, but proved to be a highly-reliable arm for the Mariners last year. The hard-throwing righty posted a 2.49 ERA and 13.3 K/9 in 2022, the latter of which was tied with Hendriks for the fifth-highest strikeout rate among relievers (min. 40 IP) last year. Only Edwin Diaz, Josh Hader, Jose Alvarado, and Devin Williams had higher K/9 rates.
What it Means
In both cases, Lopez and Muñoz were asked to come in to face the top of the Astros and Guardians’ lineups, respectively. Not to mention, both came in after each other’s closer competition came in to the pitch the eighth.
Now, we should mention that Kendall Graveman and Paul Sewald, the latter of whom led Seattle in saves in 2022, both recorded wins on the 30th. Both pitchers entered in tied games, and shut the door for their respective teams.
While Lopez and Muñoz did get the saves on Thursday, expect both Graveman and Sewald to factor into the equation for opportunities — especially given the changing model for how teams utilize relievers. Still, the fact that the two hard-throwing right-hander got the initial opportunity does bode somewhat well. We would, however, liked to have seen tidier performances.