Spin doctor Lugo relishes return to rotation

February 19th, 2023

PEORIA, Ariz. -- might have the curviest curve in baseball. It has led him straight into the Padres’ six-man starting rotation.

The spin rate of Lugo’s pet curveball last season was 3,253 revolutions per minute, per Statcast -- third-highest in the Majors. The pitch was hard to hit -- a 30.8% whiff rate -- and hard to miss.

What did manager Bob Melvin notice about Lugo last season?

“His curveball,” Melvin said succinctly.

Lugo sorted through free agent offers over the winter before picking the Padres, not only for the opportunity to join a rotation after a five-year run in the Mets' bullpen but also because of the talent in the room.

“What they have been able to do the last few years, it’s exciting to be a part of,” Lugo said. “It’s just a good ballclub."

Lugo broke in with the Mets as a starter and excelled while pitching for Puerto Rico in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. He tied for the WBC lead with two victories and pitched Puerto Rico into the championship game, where he started in an 8-0 loss to the U.S.

His repertoire fits. Lugo leaned most on his curve last season, throwing it one-third of the time, while also using two- and four-seam fastballs and a slider.

“I love starting,” Lugo said. “I love challenging myself, having a good routine and being able to prepare as a starter. It’s one of the things I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.”

If the bullpen is checkers, the rotation is chess.

“Figuring out how to work through lineups, using your pitch count to be able to pitch deep into games,” Lugo said. “Playing longer, really. Instead of going one or two innings, a chance of six, seven, eight, nine innings. I want to be out there as long as I can in a critical game.”

Any frustration he felt in the bullpen was tempered by the belief he was doing what was best for the Mets.

“Where I was in my career and the teams I’ve been on, that was the need,” Lugo said. “If that’s what a team needs to win, I’ll gladly do my part in any role. If the need is for me to start, that’s where I’d like to be.”

Pomeranz update
Left-handed reliever has thrown six bullpen sessions this spring, the latest Friday. He said he is encouraged by his progress from a left flexor tendon surgery that caused him to miss the 2022 season.

“Now, I’m just building up,” Pomeranz said. “I have hit all my marks. Even though I’m behind a lot of these guys, I feel like everyone is ready earlier every year. We have a plan. I should be able to pitch in plenty of games.”

Pomeranz had 59 strikeouts and a 1.62 ERA in 44 1/3 inning across 47 appearances from 2020-21.

“He’s hell-bent on pitching for us this year,” Melvin said, “and if he is anywhere near the form he was before, that’s another lefty in the bullpen, another guy who has pitched late in games, has closed at times. Power arm that gets righties out. Hope we get him back.”

The games cannot start soon enough for Pomeranz.

“I’m so tired of sitting around and watching,” he said. “It’s brutal.”

has missed two days with an illness. “He was contagious, so we didn’t want him in the clubhouse,” Melvin said.

• Left-hander will be asked to acclimate to a bullpen role early, Melvin said, but the long-term plan is to stretch him out in case another starter is needed.

“We have a good six here that we like," Melvin said of the starting pitchers. "He’s one of those depth pieces. Whether he is up or down, whatever it looks like, try to get some more innings out of him this year so when he is thrust into that role, he is more comfortable.”