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Lugo's ownership of lefties reaching elite levels

Right-hander has nearly doubled usage of curveball, reflecting its improvement since '17
MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

NEW YORK -- The roots of Seth Lugo's scoreless-innings streak, which he extended to a career-high 15 innings Wednesday in the Mets' 2-1 loss to the Marlins -- are not much different than the origins of his success as a big league pitcher. Lugo is throwing his curveball early and often, generating whiffs and soft contact seemingly at will.

Perhaps the most striking difference is that unlike last year, when left-handed batters hit .293 off him, Lugo has limited them to an .067 mark this season.

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NEW YORK -- The roots of Seth Lugo's scoreless-innings streak, which he extended to a career-high 15 innings Wednesday in the Mets' 2-1 loss to the Marlins -- are not much different than the origins of his success as a big league pitcher. Lugo is throwing his curveball early and often, generating whiffs and soft contact seemingly at will.

Perhaps the most striking difference is that unlike last year, when left-handed batters hit .293 off him, Lugo has limited them to an .067 mark this season.

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"If you're a right-hander trying to get lefties out, the curveball in particular is a good pitch to help you do that," manager Mickey Callaway said. "And he's got a really good one. It's been even better this year than it has been in the past, and he's used it very well."

Indeed, opposing batters entered Wednesday's play hitting .143 and slugging the same amount off Lugo's curveball this season, compared to .295 and .372 a year ago. The pitch features an increased spin rate -- 3,148 RPM compared to 3,060 -- and a harder average velocity, up more than three mph. Among pitchers who have thrown at least 25 curves this year, only Clayton Kershaw and Sean Newcomb have allowed lower slugging percentages on the pitch.

Video: TOR@NYM: Lugo catches Martin looking to retire side

Of course, Lugo throws more than just a curveball against left-handed batters, also peppering in changeups and sinkers that break away from those hitters, using those offerings to sneak in strikes on the plate's inner half. The formula has worked: among the 161 right-handed pitchers who have faced lefties at least 40 times, Lugo ranked fourth in the Majors in opposing slugging percentage at the start of Wednesday's games. All three of the players ahead of him are current or former closers.

It's a long way of saying Lugo has been one of the game's best right-handed pitchers at neutralizing lefty batters, thanks to a curveball that has been one of baseball's best pitches in any context.

"I've got a pretty good plan," Lugo said. "I feel pretty comfortable pitching to lefties right now. I know exactly what I'm doing and how I'm trying to get them out."

Often lumped together with Robert Gsellman, another starter-turned-reliever who is working on a 9 2/3-inning scoreless streak of his own, Lugo has improved in different ways. While Gsellman has almost entirely ditched his four-seam fastball, relying more on his sinker in lieu of it, Lugo has nearly doubled his curveball percentage. It's something he's wanted to do for years, but lacked the mechanical soundness to achieve. A spring spent working with a new Mets massage therapist gave Lugo the hip and hamstring flexibility he believes he needed to repeat his delivery, thereby increasing -- and allowing him to trust -- his curveball command.

Video: MIL@NYM: Lugo escapes first-and-second jam with DP

"Even good curveball-hitting hitters -- I want to throw a curveball to them," Lugo said. "If they like hitting a curveball, then OK, swing at this one. That's kind of my approach."

Eventually, Callaway has said, Lugo is likely to start games for the Mets, at which point he believes his newfound success will translate. For now, he will continue plugging away in the bullpen, doing his best "not to think about" his career-best scoreless streak.

Consider that much easier said than done -- if he's not paying attention to the streak, others certainly are. When Brandon Nimmo preserved it with a diving catch Monday in a 2-0 win over the Marlins, Lugo returned to his locker to find a message from his aunt.

"She told me to give [Nimmo] a kiss for her," Lugo said, laughing.

Worth noting
• Injured outfielder Yoenis Cespedes (strained right hip flexor) and third baseman Todd Frazier (strained left hamstring) will accompany the Mets on their road trip to Milwaukee, Callaway said, indicating neither is close to a Minor League rehab assignment. Both Cespedes and Frazier have been hitting, but have not tested their injuries with all-out sprints.

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.

New York Mets, Seth Lugo