Luzardo retires 17 straight in scoreless 8-inning gem

May 23rd, 2024

MIAMI -- Could there have been added motivation for Marlins left-hander to toss a career-high eight scoreless innings in Wednesday night’s 1-0 victory over the Brewers at loanDepot park?

The series finale also happened to overlap with his Florida Panthers’ Eastern Conference Finals opener against the New York Rangers.

“I was trying to watch the game for sure,” Luzardo said with a smile postgame.

Regardless of the reason for his efficiency, this version of Luzardo is the one the Marlins hoped would fill the void of injured ace Sandy Alcantara, who is the gold standard around the Majors.

Luzardo did his best imitation on Wednesday, scattering three hits -- all singles -- and at one point retiring 17 consecutive batters until Gary Sánchez’s one-out knock in the eighth. He struck out four, walked none and had 17 whiffs (one shy of tying a season high) in a 100-pitch outing. Luzardo needed fewer than 10 pitches in three separate frames by capitalizing on the Brewers’ aggressiveness.

Runners reached scoring position just twice, and one of them was thrown out by Luzardo when he stepped off the rubber to nab Willy Adames trying to steal third in the second inning.

The 26-year-old Luzardo, who will garner attention leading up to the July 30 Trade Deadline, has been known to be a strikeout artist. He compiled the fifth-highest K/9 rate (10.48) and eighth-highest fWAR (3.7) among National League starters in 2023 in a breakout campaign.

But it is the length Luzardo and fellow southpaw Ryan Weathers (career-high eight scoreless frames on May 14 in Detroit) have recently provided that is much-needed for a ballclub that entered Wednesday with an MLB-low 4.95 innings per start.

“Like I've said, the strikeouts for me, it's not that important, blowing people away,” Luzardo said. “It's more of getting deeper in the game, giving our team a chance to compete and saving the bullpen at the end of the day. I know that our guys are getting worn out early in the year, and it's something that I kind of take a lot of pride in trying to save them.”

Since returning from the injured list, Luzardo has a 0.92 ERA in three starts. He has struck out 19 and walked just one over 19 2/3 innings, the last 14 of which have been scoreless.

Though Luzardo’s fastball velocity was down (94.1 mph compared to 95.9 mph before the IL stint), his command made up for it. His first-pitch strike rate has increased from 63.7 to 70.4 percent. Take a look at his fastball (both four-seamers and sinkers) location before his IL stint compared to Wednesday.

Jesús Luzardo's heat map before going on the IL (left) vs. his pitch chart from Wednesday

“He said that his fastball wasn't there when they came in [before the game] and he still had a great, great outing,” Marlins manager Skip Schumaker said. “He was pitching tonight. I think it wasn't just like ‘grip it and rip it,’ and maybe that was old Zeus. He was actually pitching, thinking about different sequences.”

Catcher Nick Fortes, who has been part of four shutouts in his last six starts, felt Luzardo was dialed in from the beginning because he was consistently executing his four-seamer to the glove side -- in to righties and away to lefties. That opened up both sides of the plate for his slider and changeup.

“Their kid deserves a lot of credit,” Brewers manager Pat Murphy said. “Man, that kid was great. He was great. We didn't get on him at all -- he was all over us all night, ahead in the count and he pitched great. [Luzardo has] really good stuff. Really good stuff. He lives off his fastball. His fastball is a sneaky 95, 96 [mph], and it plays up, and he pitches at the top of the zone. That's how he gets those popups. The changeup was very good to keep us off it, and his breaking ball was good. So, he was lights-out.”

It’s no surprise Miami has won three straight series behind strong starting pitching. In Wednesday’s series finale, the Marlins got just enough offense in a pitchers’ duel.

Jazz Chisholm Jr. pulled right-hander Freddy Peralta’s 3-1 fastball over the right-field wall for a leadoff homer, making it the 30th time in the Modern Era (since 1900) that a leadoff home run held in a 1-0 ballgame, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, with the last instance occurring on Sept. 26, 2023, when Gunnar Henderson hit a leadoff shot in the Orioles' win over the Nationals.

“We all knew we were going to get into it eventually,” said Chisholm, whose seven leadoff homers rank second in franchise history. “We started the same way we started last year after the All-Star break [with a long losing skid]. So we're not surprised right now that we're winning. We just know that we're a good team. We've got to go out there and play team baseball and winning baseball, and that's what we've been doing the last couple weeks.”