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Luzardo ramping up while away from team

@MartinJGallegos
July 15, 2020

OAKLAND -- Confined to his room as he remains away from the A’s due to a positive COVID-19 test, Jesús Luzardo is managing to keep his arm in shape with as many home exercises as he can. There is no timetable for when Luzardo, Oakland’s No. 1 prospect per MLB

OAKLAND -- Confined to his room as he remains away from the A’s due to a positive COVID-19 test, Jesús Luzardo is managing to keep his arm in shape with as many home exercises as he can.

There is no timetable for when Luzardo, Oakland’s No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline, will return to the club. But the good news for the A’s is that he remains symptom-free and in communication with players and coaches, itching for a chance to join his teammates at the Oakland Coliseum for Summer Camp.

“He seemed great when I talked to him,” A’s pitching coach Scott Emerson said. “I’m not the guy to ask on the health stuff, but when we’re talking casually, he’s excited and ready to go to show everybody who Jesús Luzardo is.”

Before Luzardo can be cleared to rejoin the team, he must generate two negative tests at least 24 hours apart. With no information available as to where the left-hander is at in the testing process to this point, it’s tough to forecast a return.

Top prospects vying for Opening Day spot

While it’s clear Luzardo will be behind the other pitchers in terms of workload upon returning, the A’s believe youth will work in favor of the 22-year-old lefty when it comes to catching up. Having been on a regular throwing program back home in Florida during the baseball shutdown, it may not take Luzardo more than a week or two to get up to speed.

“We’ve texted back and forth more about his health and making sure he’s good,” Emerson said. “I think as young as Jesús is and as good of shape he’s in, two weeks isn’t gonna set him back too much. I don’t expect him to miss too much time when he comes back.”

In any case, the A’s would like to be careful with Luzardo in the building up process when he does come back. An electric arm expected to anchor the A’s rotation for years to come, the club does not want to jeopardize his long-term health for short-term gain, even in a shortened 60-game regular season that originally had plans for Luzardo to make as many starts as possible.

“As a coach, we have to make tough decisions on giving our opinion about how fast we’re gonna build him back up,” Emerson said. “This guy’s got a bright future. You look at big picture thinking, and of course, we want him to make a start every fifth day for the next 20 years of his career. But in order to do that, you’re gonna have to use your intelligence, your experience as a coach and the data.

“Once we get him on the mound, you look at the data and compare to see where he’s at and make an educated decision on how you go about building him into the mix.”

In Luzardo’s case, there may be more than one way to integrate him back into game action when the time comes. In his time with the A’s as a September callup last season, Luzardo pitched solely out of the bullpen and shined with a 1.50 ERA and 16 strikeouts over 12 innings. He also tossed three scoreless innings of relief against the Rays in the AL Wild Card Game.

The A’s will keep the option of Luzardo pitching in relief on the table, but it won’t become much of a discussion until they get a better picture of when the rookie might return.

“The luxury with him is that he did pitch out of the bullpen last year and as was successful doing it,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “We’ll do whatever is best for him and the team, but it depends on when we get him back. He’s already politicking to me that he’s gonna be ready to go and will only need to throw a bullpen once. We want to make sure, obviously, physically, that he’s in position to do that.”

Relievers stretching out
With A’s starters expected to max out around 75-85 pitches in their first turn through the rotation, the club is preparing some relievers to be in position to throw multiple innings if needed. J.B. Wendelken, T.J. McFarland, Burch Smith and Yusmerio Petit are all relievers who could go two or three innings early in the season.

“If [starters are] pitching good, that’s five or six innings. If not, you put the bullpen in a zone where we need guys to be stretched out,” Emerson said. “ If one guy has got to go two or three innings, the next day you have to have a different option for that two or three-inning outing.”

With the short time to build up to the regular season, Emerson said he wouldn’t be surprised to see certain clubs get creative in their pitching strategy, like going with three pitchers throwing three innings each.

"Every game is important right out of the chute. Each game is worth between 2.7 to 3 wins,” Emerson said. “I think there’s gonna be a lot of organizations that will be innovative and try new things. You’ll have to do that early in the year. It’s gonna be a lot of fun to watch how every team goes about their business.”

Pitching plans vs Giants
During a Zoom call with reporters on Wednesday, Melvin revealed that Sean Manaea is scheduled to start for the A’s in their first exhibition game against the Giants on Monday. Mike Fiers is expected to start the second game on Tuesday, with Chris Bassitt following Fiers in relief.

Martin Gallegos covers the A's for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @MartinJGallegos.