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Luzardo enters '20 looking like an ace

With 12 stellar innings in relief under his belt, lefty set to start
@MartinJGallegos
October 24, 2019

OAKLAND -- Jesus Luzardo embraced the high expectations as MLB Pipeline’s top-rated left-handed pitching prospect that accompanied him to Spring Training. And once Luzardo’s call to the Majors finally came in September, the 21-year-old certainly did not shy away from the spotlight. Luzardo looked more like a poised veteran than

OAKLAND -- Jesus Luzardo embraced the high expectations as MLB Pipeline’s top-rated left-handed pitching prospect that accompanied him to Spring Training. And once Luzardo’s call to the Majors finally came in September, the 21-year-old certainly did not shy away from the spotlight.

Luzardo looked more like a poised veteran than a rookie in his 2019 big league cameo. From his electric 98 mph fastball to the falling-off-the-table changeup, Luzardo left the A’s salivating at what he might be able to accomplish over a full season.

Thrust into the middle of a postseason race, Luzardo pitched only 12 innings of relief, but all were of great importance. He posted a 1.50 ERA with 16 strikeouts and just three walks, pitching multiple innings and recording a hold or save in four of his six appearances.

“He was [a factor] late in games,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “After [just about] one appearance, when he came in the game, it was all about how we were going to score some runs because we knew he had it taken care of on his end. For a young guy to be that impactful late in games, [the] seventh, eighth and ninth inning, that early in your career, you don’t see that often.”

As exciting as Luzardo’s arrival may have been, 2019 really was just the appetizer. For the ’20 season, the lefty will move into the Oakland starting rotation, where the club sees him serving as the anchor for years to come.

What went right?

Luzardo settled in rather quickly, kicking off his Major League career with a bang on Sept. 11, as he mowed down a potent Astros lineup by retiring nine of the 10 batters he faced over three innings in an Oakland win at Minute Maid Park. That debut set the tone for a superb run that earned Luzardo a spot on the roster for the American League Wild Card Game against the Rays.

Even in a couple of outings where Luzardo did not have his best command, he still found ways to escape self-created jams unscathed. And the rookie impressed by not just relying on his overpowering fastball, but approaching hitters with a craftiness rarely seen from pitchers in their younger years.

What went wrong?

Injuries left Luzardo’s chances of pitching a single inning for Oakland this season in serious doubt. While he had the inside track on a spot in the starting rotation coming out of Spring Training, a muscle strain that Luzardo sustained in his left shoulder just a week before the start of the regular season kept him out for three months. He returned to Minor League action in June, but was sidelined again less than a month later, this time with a Grade 2 lat strain. Had the latter injury not occurred, Luzardo likely would have been in Oakland in a starting role earlier than his eventual Sept. 9 callup.

Entering 2020, the A’s believe that Luzardo, who also underwent Tommy John surgery in 2016, is not injury-prone, though they’ll discuss whether or not to have him on some type of innings limit.

Best moment?

When the Oakland Coliseum lights were shining at their brightest, Luzardo remained fearless on the mound. He was a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing night for the A’s in their Wild Card Game loss to the Rays, racking up four strikeouts over three scoreless innings of relief.

“I was nervous, but once I started warming up, the nerves were gone,” Luzardo said. “Once I got the first out, I was fine.”

2020 outlook

The Wild Card Game outing was the first of many postseason games the A’s hope to see Luzardo dominate in the coming years.

As long as he remains healthy, the only question regarding Luzardo entering next season is where he slots into the rotation as of Opening Day. Between Luzardo and No. 2 prospect A.J. Puk, the A’s have twin pillars on the mound to build around, much the same way they have set up their lineup with the dynamic young duo of Matt Chapman and Matt Olson at the corner infield spots.

“They’re gonna be stars,” Melvin said of his young pitchers. “Both of them showed that. Jesus had a little bit more of an opportunity. A little bit more precise in the role we gave him. It was my fault early on that I threw A.J. in some tough situations before finding a niche for him, but both these guys are going to be fantastic for us and part of the feeling we have going into next year that we’re going to be better [is] because of guys like them.”

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