Luzardo 'blessed' to start G1 of WC Series

Bassitt slated for Game 2 vs. White Sox

September 29th, 2020

OAKLAND -- In a 2019 American League Wild Card Game filled with disappointment for the A’s, -- the club's No. 1 prospect at the time -- provided a glimmer of hope.

Hurling three innings of scoreless relief with four strikeouts in that Oct. 2 loss to the Rays, the A’s season ended with a “what if” feeling surrounding Luzardo. What might happen if the A’s get back to the postseason, only this time, with their left-handed ace in waiting taking the mound with a starting nod for that all-important contest?

Wonder no more.

The first chance for the A’s to atone for their failures of the past two Octobers rests on the shoulders of a 22-year-old rookie. Luzardo started Game 1 of the Wild Card Series against the White Sox on Tuesday at the Coliseum. Right-hander is tabbed for Game 2.

"I think it’s awesome. I’m blessed to be able to start Game 1,” Luzardo said. “Obviously, we have a lot of good guys in the rotation. I’m glad to, hopefully, get us off on the right foot and get us going.”

Luzardo’s assignment will not be easy -- it rarely is for any pitcher come playoff time. He was tasked with slaying a White Sox offense that feasted on left-handers in the regular season, going 14-0 against southpaws.

“We know,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said of Chicago’s numbers vs. left-handers. “We also have some good ones. One of the reasons we pitched Jesús on turn the other day in L.A. in relief is because we targeted him for Game 1. He can be pretty good against lefties and righties.”

“Every pitcher is different,” Luzardo said. “Every lefty has different stuff. We’ll see how my stuff plays against them.”

Why give Luzardo such a daunting challenge in his first postseason start? He’s just built differently.

Luzardo is a rare breed. A rookie who carries himself like a vet, he brings fearlessness to the mound, a characteristic often required for times like these. Sure, the blazing 98 mph fastball and falling-off-the-table changeup help, but it’s Luzardo’s poise that made the decision to start him Game 1 an easier one for the A’s.

“Those qualities are very important,” Melvin said. “As we saw last year, we brought him in the Wild Card Game and he looked like a veteran on the mound. He pitched really well. He’s composed and has great stuff. I think he’s one of those guys that relishes these type of games.

“At a young age, it’s rare to see. But I think the experience he got last year and some of the attributes we talked about would mean he wouldn’t be afraid of the first game.”

Luzardo, who turns 23 on Wednesday, became the youngest A’s pitcher to start a postseason game since 22-year-old Barry Zito in Game 4 of the 2000 AL Division Series. Vida Blue (22 for 1971 ALCS Game 1) is the franchise’s only other postseason starter that young in the past 105 years.

“I feel like every kid good growing up, this is the dream,” Luzardo said. “To be able to do it at a young age right now is a blessing. I have to thank the A’s for the opportunity. I hope this is just the first of many.”

Luzardo finished 3-2 with a 4.12 ERA in 12 regular-season games (nine starts) and ranked second among Major League rookies with 59 strikeouts over 59 innings. Comfortability pitching at the Coliseum certainly could have played a factor in both Luzardo and Bassitt getting the starting assignments. Luzardo went 3-1 with a 2.40 ERA in eight home games (six starts). Bassitt -- who was superb everywhere as he finished with the third-lowest ERA (2.29) among AL starters -- was especially dominant in Oakland, going 2-1 with a 0.72 ERA over six home starts.

Melvin said he would hold off naming a possible Game 3 starter. The options will be plenty, as the A’s are expected to carry the rest of their starting pitchers -- , , and -- on the playoff roster.

While Luzardo has shown the ability to go deep into games, the A’s would likely only need five or six quality innings from the lefty before handing it off to a dominant bullpen that led the Majors with a combined 2.72 ERA. That relief corps -- led by closer -- will be relied upon heavily in the late innings as it tries to hold down a talented lineup that features AL Rookie of the Year Award hopeful Luis Robert and AL MVP Award candidate José Abreu.

"[The White Sox are a] much different team than we saw last year,” Melvin said. “A lot of power. A lot of athleticism. They're playing a little bit more for homers than maybe last year, where they ran a little bit more. It's a deep lineup throughout.

“Their youngsters -- certainly Robert -- have made it a completely different team. They've had a terrific season, added some players and pitchers. They deserve to be in the postseason."