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Pitcher Lopez gets opening day nod

Rodrigo Lopez 

Rodrigo Lopez 

LAWRENCEVILLE — Giving a nod to his nine seasons of major league pitching experience, the Gwinnett Braves opted to go with right-hander Rodrigo Lopez as Thursday’s opening-day starter.

Lopez pitched with the Atlanta Braves through spring training before missing the final cut last week.

“It’s hard not to keep a guy who’s pitched nine years in the big leagues out of the first spot in the rotation,” G-Braves pitching coach Marty Reed said. “He threw extremely well in major league camp and it was a tough decision between him, (Mike) Minor and (Brandon) Beachy for that fifth spot.

Opening Series

Who: Gwinnett Braves vs. Durham Bulls

When: Thursday-Sunday

Where: Coolray Field

Schedule:

• Thursday, 7 p.m.

• Friday, 7 p.m.

• Saturday, 7 p.m.

• Sunday, 2 p.m.

“We’re glad that Rodrigo is with us.”

Minor is scheduled to pitch today for Atlanta in a spot start for the rehabbing Jair Jurrjens, who will pitch a simulated game today at noon at Coolray Field. Beachy started Monday for the Braves, allowing one run over six innings in a no-decision at Milwaukee.

In six appearances in spring training, Lopez had a 3.80 ERA with 21 strikeouts.

“I have been throwing well,” Lopez said. “It’s an honor and responsibility to start the first game. I know I have to do my best to get a win for my team and do my best to get back to the big leagues.”

Lopez expects to pitch about five innings in Thursday’s opener before giving over to the Gwinnett Braves bullpen.

Lopez joins a mixed bag of opening day starters for the Gwinnett Braves. The team’s first opening pitcher was Tommy Hanson, now a starter with Atlanta in 2009. In 2010 the honor fell to James Parr, who was injured and is now a free agent.

For Lopez, starting opening day is just one of many starts he hopes to make this season.

“At this point, you have to take every game as a responsibility,” Lopez said. “Being the first game is kind of special, but I just have to take it like a regular game.”

Following Lopez in the rotation will be the Braves top prospect Julio Teheran on Friday, Todd Redmond on Saturday, Jacob Thompson on Sunday and Yohan Flande on Monday.

The Gwinnett Braves open the season Thursday at 7 p.m. against the Durham Bulls.