‘What we feel like is a bright future is coming along quickly here’: Jesús Luzardo impresses in big league debut

Oakland Athletics' prospect Jesús Luzardo shows poise in MLB debut, a win over Houston Astros

Oakland Athletics relief pitcher Jesus Luzardo delivers during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Houston Astros, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
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HOUSTON — Brett Anderson knew his start Wednesday in Houston would be shorter than normal.

Anderson had some of his best stuff of the year; he was pumping 95 mph fastballs to start — a velocity that eventually waned to its typical effectiveness. He threw 86 pitches in his five innings, and the offense turned a one-run deficit into a four-run lead for him when he departed.

The A’s 5-3 win in Houston on Wednesday guaranteed Anderson’s 12th win of the year, a career-high, and just his second career win against the Astros. But, Wednesday wasn’t Anderson Day.

“Yeah, I’m just the new guy’s caddie,” Anderson said.

Artificially, an outing cut short gave Anderson, who made his 29th start of the year, a much-needed breather here in September.

Symbolically, it served not to prolong any further the much-anticipated start to the Jesús Luzardo era.

It was Luzardo’s day to pitch. And, despite the magnitude of the moment — a September game, on the road with a tight lead against one of the best teams in all of baseball — it was clear before the game even started that the A’s did not want to wait any longer to get their top prospect on a big league mound.

Luzardo took over in the sixth inning. By his fifth pitch as a big leaguer, the 21-year-old’s poise and conviction had overtaken the Astros’ lineup’s confidence and prestige. Aledmys Diaz watched his sixth pitch, a 97 mph two-seamer, sail through the bottom of the strike zone for Luzardo’s first career strikeout.

Luzardo said he didn’t have a feel for much of anything initially — he chucked his fastball 98 mph, his slider a couple times, too. He fell behind to Martin Maldonado, and Maldonado big leagued the heck out of his 3-1 fastball right down the pike and into Minute Maid Park’s train tracks.

“I knew it was bound to happen, I knew that I was going to give up a home run at some point,” Luzardo said. “It was kind of good, kind of relief I guess you could say. But end of the day you don’t want to give up a run. But I bounced back next hitter and kind of forgot about it.”

Luzardo, 21, was in line to be on the Opening Day roster until a shoulder strain cost him the first two months of the season. His return to the majors was delayed by a lat strain in June.

Luzardo isn’t the type to get caught up on mistakes. He’s a planner, every pitch a step toward composing the outing he wants. Despite his temporary bullpen role Luzardo is a starter by trade, and he had the space to de-grip the Astros of the controls and slowly — yet, with incredibly quick pace — craft his outing the way he envisioned.

He’d been working on a quick pitch in the minor leagues, so why not whip one out against Myles Straw — it was called a ball, though very nearly framed a strike by catcher Sean Murphy.

“It’s usually just kind of surprise shut down, but that’s exactly what I’m looking for when I do it,” Luzardo said. “So I was glad. It didn’t end up a strike, but I was glad the hitter was thrown off.”

Unlike in Las Vegas, Luzardo noticed, his two-seamer had incredible movement here in Houston.

“I kind of realized at the end of the first, OK, my fastball is working well today,” Luzardo said. “Before that I didn’t have a feel for any of it. I was just kind of throwing it until I got the third out.”

With it he struck out Diaz and Straw looking. He went 1-2-3 in the seventh and eighth innings, using that two-seamer to induce some ground ball outs. Luzardo didn’t throw many four-seamers, the two was breathing some life Luzardo hadn’t seen in a while. But the contrast was key.

“He does a good job mixing the fours and the twos,” Murphy said. “So he makes the straight ones and sinking ones and could get a few ground balls with the sinker, and he was able to burn guys glove side with the four-seamer.”

Luzardo and Murphy have formed a strong battery — and somewhere during those three innings, a September game against a powerful offense felt a secondary concern to the vision of the A’s future at work.

“What we feel like is a bright future is coming along quickly here,” manager Bob Melvin said.

But, bright futures aside, let’s bring this back to 2019. Luzardo joins an A’s pitching staff loaded rotationally and flaky bullpen side. Melvin indicated that the role he played Wednesday night could be one we see him play in the next few weeks — he certainly bulldozed right through those innings that have caused the A’s bullpen some trouble over the last few months. He set up Liam Hendriks nicely, who closed down the ninth with ease.

“We’ll still talk about it, we want to get his pitch count up,” Melvin said. “He’s a starter by trade, all starters are pitching well. So maybe maybe next time out, same type of fashion.”

He’ll go multiple innings, and he should stay on his turn. The young left-hander has the poise to excel however he’s used.

 

 

 

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