Luzardo's first MLB win is A's 9th straight

August 10th, 2020

OAKLAND -- The A’s entered 2020 with their sights set on dethroning the Astros for American League West supremacy. In their first series of the season against the division kingpins, they made a statement.

The A’s jumped on Cristian Javier early to provide a nice cushion for , who earned his first big league win after limiting the Astros to two runs in 5 2/3 innings in Sunday’s 7-2 victory at the Coliseum to finish off a three-game sweep. The win pushed Oakland’s Major League-best winning streak to nine games and gave the club a 5 1/2-game lead in the AL West.

and flexed their muscles with back-to-back homers in the third, with Olson’s three-run shot putting the A’s ahead by four at the time.

The national headlines from Sunday’s game are sure to focus on the dugout-clearing incident involving A’s outfielder , who after being hit by a pitch in the seventh inning exchanged words with Houston hitting coach Alex Cintron and charged the Astros dugout from first base. But the A’s won’t let the incident detract from what was a special moment for their No. 1 prospect, who became the youngest A’s pitcher to win a game since Brett Anderson on Oct. 2, 2010 (22 years, 243 days).

Nor will the altercation diminish a big mark for the A’s, whose 12-4 record now matches their best start through 16 games in a season (2013) over the past 30 years.

“[Luzardo] was great. Maybe not his best command that we’ve seen in the past, but he was terrific and got the win,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “[The incident] doesn’t damper anything. We swept these guys, and that was our intent. That won’t damper what transpired.”

Luzardo’s second Major League start wasn’t as dazzling as his first, which saw him toss five shutout innings. His first inning on Sunday was rather inauspicious as he fell behind in the count to the first three batters he faced.

Without a good feel for his slider early on, the left-hander was confined to throwing mostly two-seam and four-seam fastballs through the first four frames, which eventually bit him in the fourth when Yuli Gurriel connected on a 0-1 fastball for a two-run homer.

“It just felt weird out of my hand,” Luzardo said of his slider. “I threw a couple of good ones and got the feel back towards the end. I feel like it’s back on track now.”

Luzardo did not allow the homer to discourage him. Eventually finding his slider after the homer, he used it as the put-away pitch on three of his final five strikeouts.

The performance wasn’t up to the high standards of Luzardo, who ranks as the 13th-best prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline. But if a final line of two runs allowed on five hits and two walks while striking out five over 5 2/3 innings classifies as a “bad” outing for Luzardo, Melvin can’t wait to see what the results are on a good day.

“He probably will tell you he didn’t have what he normally does. If that’s just a mediocre game, we’re going to be in pretty good shape with him down the road,” Melvin said. “He’s a terrific talent and doesn’t have to have his best stuff, even against a team like that, to go out and perform at a high level. This is a guy who is going to excel here and we’re really excited.”

The homers by Olson and Chapman in the third marked the fourth time the two Matts have gone back-to-back, and the extra breathing room was much appreciated by Luzardo, who cheered on the offensive firepower from the A’s dugout.

“Chappy and Oly went back-to-back, I thought that was awesome,” Luzardo said. “It gave us more life. More energy throughout the game, not that we needed more, but we got more.”

The A’s bullpen was dominant in relief of Luzardo with 3 1/3 scoreless innings. , who has been a revelation for Oakland this season, finished it off by shutting out Houston over the final three innings to record his first Major League save.

Through his first five appearances this season, Smith has given up four hits and has yet to allow a run in 10 1/3 innings. That’s just a small part of superb performance by the entire bullpen, as A’s relievers posted a 0.79 ERA in 11 1/3 innings over the three-game sweep and now hold a 1.63 ERA for the season.

“Being able to sweep [Houston] and extend our lead in the AL West is great,” Luzardo said. “Having the ability to win these big games early in the season is big for us.”