Hometown kid Luzardo named Marlins' Opening Day starter

February 27th, 2024

JUPITER, Fla. -- Growing up, left-hander would attend Opening Day with his father, Jesús, as Ricky Nolasco and Josh Beckett toed the rubber at the Marlins’ old ballpark in Miami Gardens.

Manager Skip Schumaker announced on Tuesday that the hometown kid will get the Opening Day assignment on March 28 at loanDepot park. Luzardo will counter Pirates right-hander Mitch Keller. First pitch is scheduled for 4:10 p.m. ET.

"I remember my dad taking me out of school a couple times, specifically to come here [to Jupiter] for Spring Training, and then for Opening Day,” Luzardo said. “It's kind of nostalgic for me to think about, and I know my dad and my mom as well, they're super excited, and it brings back memories for them. But just being able to put on that Marlins uniform on Opening Day, and being able to pitch, it's going to be an awesome experience.”

Schumaker and ace Sandy Alcantara, who had garnered the Opening Day start over the past four years but will miss the 2024 season due to Tommy John surgery, delivered the news to Luzardo on Monday in the manager’s office.

It was an easy decision for Schumaker and his staff. Luzardo stepped up when Alcantara went down last September, and he has continued to look like an ace early in spring.

“He is deserving of it,” Schumaker said, “and hopefully this is the first of many for him. He's turned himself into the ace of our staff, a guy that has become one of the leaders in that clubhouse and on the staff, and nobody deserves it more than him. So he was pumped about it. Had Sandy in the room with him, which is a cool moment -- Sandy kind of delivering the news to him. And it was just a really cool moment for a manager to see the expression on his face when the news was broken.”

That’s because the 26-year-old Luzardo’s path to his first Opening Day nod hasn’t been a linear one.

A year after the Nationals selected Luzardo in the third round of the 2016 MLB Draft out of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, they dealt him to the A’s as part of the trade package that sent Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson to Washington. From 2019-21 with Oakland, Luzardo struggled to find his footing in the Majors, posting a 4.79 ERA in 31 games (15 starts). He also sustained a hairline fracture in his left pinkie from a video game incident that sidelined him for an extended period.

When Miami’s front office traded Starling Marte to Oakland ahead of the 2021 Deadline, Luzardo was at the lowest point of his career. He wondered whether he would ever become a true big league pitcher. The Marlins saw him as a reclamation project.

Through Luzardo’s first 11 starts with Miami, he had a 6.92 ERA and a 13.2 percent walk rate. But he ended the 2021 season on a high note, with 11 strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings of one-run ball. That outing very well could’ve been the turning point in his career.

“There's a process and time that goes along, and trust and all of that work that you put in to get to that point,” pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. said. “It's a big day for him. He can celebrate his work and the price that he paid from putting all that work in. There was a sacrifice. He took his lumps, and he's earned it. So really proud of him sticking with that commitment and that process, because when you're young and you don't get the results that you get all the time, it's really easy to waver from that process, and he stuck with it.”

In 2022, Luzardo missed time with a left forearm strain but posted a 124 ERA+ in 18 starts and struck out what was then a career-high 12 in his final start of the season (he topped that with a 13-K performance in '23). He broke out in 2023, finishing eighth in fWAR and ERA among National League qualifying pitchers. Luzardo also set the single-season franchise record for a left-hander with 208 strikeouts.

With Alcantara sidelined, Luzardo started Game 1 of the NL Wild Card Series in the Marlins’ first postseason appearance in a full season in two decades. That experience should have prepared him for the pomp and circumstance of Opening Day festivities.

“I got asked all the time when I got drafted, ‘Where would you want to go? Where would you want to sign?’ Luzardo said. “And I said I would love to play for the Marlins growing up a Marlins fan. It's just a dream. When I got traded over here, it kind of felt surreal. And then I came over as a questionable. I didn't know if I was going to be in the rotation. Then [in] 2022, I was the fifth guy. Last year, I was the second guy, and then now I'm starting us off. So I think the trajectory is just crazy to think about, and I do think everything happens for a reason. It wasn't planned. It just kind of worked out this way, but that's what I do think: God has a plan.”