It's a bird! It's a plane! It's bespectacled Jesús

Southpaw ties career high with 8 K's across 6-plus scoreless frames

August 29th, 2021

MIAMI -- Clark Kent might be Superman’s alter ego, but a bespectacled Jesús Luzardo is the superhero of this story.

Luzardo, who has worn glasses since he was nine years old, had switched to contact lenses during a challenging 2021 season. But he rocked the glasses again and returned to form in the Marlins’ 2-1 win over the Reds on Sunday afternoon at loanDepot park.

The 23-year-old Luzardo, whom Miami acquired for Starling Marte leading up to the Trade Deadline, struck out a career-high-tying eight batters across six-plus innings in what he called the best start of his career. Jesús Sánchez went deep for the second straight game, as his two-run shot held in helping Miami capture consecutive series for the first time since June 8-13.

“I kind of just felt like I needed to go back to my old ways, maybe try something new. And I'll probably wear them for the rest of the year, and I'd say probably the rest of my career,” Luzardo said.

Early on, Reds batters looked to be Luzardo’s kryptonite. Jonathan India doubled and Tyler Stephenson walked to open the game, but Luzardo buckled down to strike out Nick Castellanos and Joey Votto, before inducing a comebacker from Kyle Farmer to begin a dominant stretch. 

Seconds after escaping that first-inning jam, Luzardo pumped his fist into his glove several times and headed to the dugout calm, confident and in control. That moment set the tone for Luzardo, who retired 18 of 19 batters at one point. 

“Honestly, I thought that was my biggest inning to get through,” Luzardo said. “Once I got through that, it honestly kind of boosted my confidence -- having to face those two guys, guys that are two of the best hitters in the league. Being able to get two big strikeouts there, back to back, to get me out of that inning, I thought it was huge. And then I just kind of took that momentum and rolled with it.”

Sporting fashionable eyewear wasn’t the only difference as Luzardo toed the rubber against the postseason-hopeful Reds. He also worked with veteran Sandy León for the first time. León entered the series finale with a 3.18 catcher's ERA, which ranks fifth in the Majors (min. 1,000 plate appearances).

That duo switched up Luzardo’s arsenal Sunday, turning to his changeup -- traditionally his fourth-most utilized pitch -- 30.9 percent of the time. He recorded seven whiffs on it, including the strikeout of Castellanos in the first inning. Overall, Luzardo collected a 36.6 percent whiff rate on swings -- the best of his career.

"I think the main thing he did was really attack the strike zone,” Reds manager David Bell said. “He has a great arm, good fastball, but his changeup was really good. He threw it repeatedly to some of our hitters and threw it for strikes. Made for a tough day."

As a result, Marlins manager Don Mattingly allowed Luzardo to begin the seventh inning at 87 pitches, but he hit Votto on a full-count offering and exited to an ovation from the hometown crowd. Anthony Bender kept the Reds off the scoreboard with a double play and a strikeout. 

Luzardo’s 94-pitch outing marked his first time pitching into the seventh since April 25, when he also struck out eight hitters. The series finale was the first time he didn’t allow a run in a start since April 20.

Luzardo entered with a 9.67 ERA since joining the Marlins -- the second-worst mark through a player’s first five starts in franchise history (min. 15 innings). Among pitchers to throw at least 50 innings in the Majors, Luzardo’s 7.91 ERA was second worst (8.06) behind Matt Shoemaker, who was released by the Twins on August 2.

Sunday’s performance is something for Luzardo to build off of with his new organization. Mattingly noticed the southpaw slowed the game down rather than rushing to throw the ball after every pitch. He also was able to translate what he learned in his bullpen session to his start.

“It's been getting there,” Mattingly said. “Last outing, [a lot of] smaller misses. Today, obviously, in the zone, and [he] just kind of keeps going. And that's really what we talked about with him is: we want to be able to hopefully be consistent with the message. Get him on track, hopefully get some consistent outings through the end of the year, and let him go to work on it.”