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Luzardo has electric 1st start; A's walk off

@MartinJGallegos
August 5, 2020

OAKLAND -- The anticipation for Jesús Luzardo’s move to the starting rotation only grew with each impressive outing he turned in for the A’s out of the bullpen since last September. That moment finally came on Tuesday night, and the left-hander lived up to the hype. Luzardo was electric in

OAKLAND -- The anticipation for Jesús Luzardo’s move to the starting rotation only grew with each impressive outing he turned in for the A’s out of the bullpen since last September. That moment finally came on Tuesday night, and the left-hander lived up to the hype.

Luzardo was electric in his first Major League start, holding the Rangers scoreless over five innings of two-hit ball at the Coliseum, keeping the A’s in the game for an eventual 5-1 win on Stephen Piscotty’s walk-off grand slam. The A’s No. 1 prospect struck out five batters and walked two.

Box score

“He was terrific,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He comes as advertised. Great velocity and great movement. Terrific athlete. Really good start for him for his first time out.”

Touted by scouts for his fearlessness on the mound, Luzardo came out attacking hitters from the start. He made his presence felt in the opening frame with a pair of strikeouts, rearing back to blow a 97 mph fastball by Joey Gallo to end the inning. Any nerves Luzardo might have had certainly were untraceable after that dominant first-inning performance, which is impressive for a 22-year-old lefty who became the youngest pitcher to start a game for the A’s since Brett Anderson (22 years, 243 days) in 2010.

“You’d never know it was the day he was pitching,” Melvin said. “If there were nerves, he didn’t show it. A lot of times the nerves will show up in the first inning, and it was anything but. He was throwing bullets. He’s special in that he has a lot of confidence at a young age.”

Possessing an impressive mix of five plus-pitches in his repertoire, Luzardo showed off four of them on Thursday night: fastball, changeup, sinker and slider. He appeared to favor the changeup against Texas, throwing it 18 times and generating five whiffs. Of his 76 pitches, Luzardo registered 34 swinging strikes and 10 whiffs. Four of his five strikeouts were of the swinging variety.

Even Texas manager Chris Woodward tipped his cap to Luzardo for the dominant performance.

“Luzardo is pretty good. He has three plus-pitches. He executed pretty well early,” Woodward said. “I was hoping we would put more pressure on him early, attack him early. He did a good job of offsetting that by throwing some changeups early in hitters' counts.”

The scoreless performance came on a night when Luzardo didn’t even feel like he had a full grasp of all his pitches. He said his slider was not working as well as it normally does, so he made the decision to stay away from the pitch after the third.

“I feel like I was able to battle pretty well. My slider wasn’t necessarily there,” Luzardo said. “I wasn’t able to throw it for a strike that much. I felt like I was able to battle with my other pitches pretty well and keep guys off balance.”

With a late start to Summer Camp by two weeks due to a COVID-19 positive test, Luzardo’s pitch count was closely monitored on Tuesday. He was not going to throw more than 80 pitches, though he did appear to be getting stronger as the start went along, punching out two batters in his final inning.

“I feel like I settled in,” Luzardo said. “The first inning was good. I established both sides of the plate. Towards the end of my outing, I knew what I had and worked with that. I went along with the gameplan once I saw what I had for the first three innings.”

Luzardo’s fastball averaged 96 mph and topped out at 97.8 mph. His sinker -- which he describes as more of a two-seamer with movement -- was even filthier, reaching a maximum velocity of 98.5 mph. While such high-powered pitches can often lead to hard contact by hitters, Luzardo only gave up a total of four hard-hit balls on the night, according to Statcast.

In other words, the starter version of Luzardo was more of the reliever version, which posted a 2.41 ERA over eight career relief appearances for the A’s.

“He was attacking, really looked like the pitcher he was when he was coming in relief,” Piscotty said. “I’m sure his emotions were pretty high. It was impressive for him to continue to do what he does best, which is attack the zone and get outs.”

Following Luzardo’s departure, the A’s bullpen kept them in the game by allowing just one run the rest of the way. Oakland’s offense got on the board in the seventh on Matt Chapman’s game-tying solo homer off Rangers starter Lance Lynn. Chapman’s blast was the hardest hit of the night for the A’s, sailing into the right-field bleachers with an exit velocity clocked at 106.7 mph.

Slamming the history books

After Matt Olson walked it off against the Angels on Opening Day with a grand slam in extra innings, Piscotty’s walk-off slam off Texas reliever Jesse Chavez on Tuesday marked the first time in franchise history the A’s have hit two walk-off grand slams in a season (also July 24 vs. Angels).

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the A's are the first team in MLB history with multiple walk-off grand slams in their first 11 games of a season. Oakland is the third team to hit multiple walk-off grand slams within any 11-game span (1952 Red Sox, 2017 Blue Jays).

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