Luzardo's 'turkey sub' steals show in debut

Left-hander stifles Rangers’ Taveras with 65-mph breaking ball

March 12th, 2021

unveiled a new pitch that is sure to strike fear, and hunger, into opposing hitters this season.

During the third inning of the A's 6-0 win over the Rangers on Thursday at Surprise Stadium, Luzardo broke out a funky 65-mph looping breaking ball on an 0-1 count that froze Leody Taveras at the plate as it landed at the bottom of the zone for a strike. Following his outing, the 23-year-old lefty revealed the name of his delicious-looking pitch: The Turkey Sub.

The name of the pitch was inspired by A’s right-handed prospect Brian Howard, who was Luzardo's teammate at Double-A Midland in 2018. Luzardo has never thrown the pitch in a Major League game, but after working to incorporate it into his repertoire more this spring, it now looks to be quite the complement to his fastball, which sat around 94-96 mph as he held the Rangers hitless and issued just two walks in four scoreless innings.

“I threw three different types of breaking balls, including the turkey sub, which I was happy about,” Luzardo said. “I was kind of tentative to throw it my first year in the big leagues. I didn’t know how it would work. This year, I found some confidence in it and I’m going to start throwing it more. I’m glad to have it back.”

Improving the breaking ball has been Luzardo’s main focus in spring, which could be the step that elevates him to the top-of-the-line ace the A’s believe he can be. Though his 59 strikeouts in 59 innings last season were the second-most among rookies, Luzardo felt that the lack of a consistent breaking ball led to him being unable to finish off hitters at times. He threw the pitch plenty on Thursday, using it as the putaway pitch on three of his five strikeouts.

“He’s very understanding of what he needs to work on,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He’s worked this spring on throwing two different kinds of breaking balls to try to add a four-pitch mix, so if one isn’t working then he still has three pitches. He’s motivated to get better, and when you have that kind of stuff, it seems like he’s the entire package. I expect him to have a really good year.”

When a young flamethrower like Luzardo can bring the heat with his fastball, it can be easy to fall in love with and overthrow. That was the case in 2020 as Statcast showed him throwing the four-seamer 32.7 percent of the time, compared to just 22.8 percent with the curveball. In his brief time as a September callup in 2019, the curveball was Luzardo’s most-thrown pitch at 29.8 percent.

Luzardo will try to balance that usage more this season. There’s no question how much more devastating he can be on the mound with a consistent breaking ball. It showed in the at-bat against Taveras when he followed up the 65-mph turkey sub with a quick-pitch fastball that popped 97 mph on the stadium radar gun two pitches later. That’s a difference of 30 mph in pitch speeds in the same at-bat.

“He slows you down a bit with that, which really, he didn’t have a pitch like that before,” Melvin said of Luzardo’s new breaking ball. “I think he’s working on a feel for it, but he can probably throw it anywhere from 68-69 mph into the 80s. It’s another weapon.”

Lowrie getting into a rhythm
Though it hasn’t shown in the box score, Jed Lowrie is swinging the bat well early on in spring. After missing the first week of games as he worked his way back from left knee surgery over the offseason, the veteran second baseman played his second Cactus League game on Thursday and impressed Melvin with the solid contact he made.

“He made three pretty good swings and then gets called out looking on a borderline pitch. He’s got a pretty good eye for the strike zone,” Melvin said. “I’m going to play him again tomorrow on the field and then give him the next day off. But I think he looks pretty good.”

The 36-year-old Lowrie is looking to earn his way onto the club on a Minor League deal. Coming off two injury-riddled seasons with the Mets, Lowrie is seeking to recapture the magic in his third stint with Oakland. His previous time with the A’s saw him set a single-season Oakland record with 49 doubles in 2017 and earn an All-Star appearance in ‘18 as he slashed .267/.353/.448 with 23 home runs, 37 doubles and 99 RBIs.

Up next
The A’s return home to Hohokam Stadium in Mesa, Ariz., for a 12:05 p.m. PT game against the Padres on Friday. A’s top right-handed pitching prospect Daulton Jefferies, who has not allowed a run this spring, will make his third Cactus League start. Right-hander Chris Paddack will take the mound for San Diego.