OAKLAND -- The A’s still envision Jesús Luzardo as their ace of the future. But in a 60-game regular season, his best work might come out of the bullpen.
With his arm still not built up to a starter’s workload, Luzardo, ranked by MLB Pipeline as Oakland’s No. 1 prospect, will begin the season as a reliever. Given his supreme stuff, Luzardo could impact games much like he did in 2019 as a September callup, when he shortened games by going two or three innings as a bridge to closer Liam Hendriks.
“It’s a big weapon,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “As you saw last year, I wasn’t sure he would take to a bullpen role as well as he did. He just wants to pitch. It’s not about development and targeting and trying to build him up, it’s about getting outs and winning games.
“He has the ability to be out there for a while. When we bring him in a game, it could be for two innings, and if we need more, it could be for more.”
Melvin expects Luzardo to be ready for the second game of the regular season, which comes Saturday against the Angels at the Oakland Coliseum, though he did not rule out an appearance on Opening Day.
As the season goes along, the multi-inning appearances for Luzardo could also stretch him out for a move into the starting rotation, which was his original destination before a positive COVID-19 test delayed his arrival to Summer Camp by two weeks.
Luzardo posted a 1.50 ERA in six relief outings with 16 strikeouts in 12 innings during the regular season. He then threw three scoreless innings against the Rays in the American League Wild Card Game. All seven of those appearances came with Luzardo entering a clean inning with no runners on base, but Melvin said Luzardo has made it clear he’s ready to enter games in any situation.
“He told me until he gets built up to just use him however we want. He’s eager to get out there,” Melvin said. “I’d probably prefer to get him in a clean inning the first time out. But after that, I think it’s just whenever we need him.”
Taxi squad set
Teams will be permitted a three-player taxi squad for every road trip, giving them immediate options to replace a player who is injured or sidelined because of COVID-19. Melvin revealed Thursday that catcher Jonah Heim, utility player Nate Orf and left-handed pitcher Lucas Luetge will comprise that three-man squad. The three players will work out at the team’s alternate training site in San Jose during homestands.
Heim was in competition with Austin Allen for the backup catcher job during camp.
“Catching position was tough,” Melvin said. “I would have liked to keep all three, but with some of the guys we needed to keep in the bullpen, it just added up to where we couldn’t keep a third catcher.”
Luetge impressed the A’s going back to Spring Training in Arizona.
“Luetge has pitched really well and gives us another left-hander if something happens,” Melvin said. “Nate Orf can basically play every position. That’s an important guy to have, especially on the road if you have to make a move. He fills that role, and he’s fit in well here.”