Lugo dominates again, continues 'ridiculous' start to '24

Pasquantino's third homer backs righty's fourth straight quality start in win over White Sox

April 16th, 2024

CHICAGO -- The Royals signed to be a strike-thrower and veteran stabilizer in their rotation this season.

Through four starts, he’s been as advertised and more.

The 34-year-old’s latest outing was seven strong scoreless innings against the White Sox in the Royals’ 2-0 series-opening victory at Guaranteed Rate Field on Monday. Needing 99 pitches, Lugo limited the White Sox to just four hits and one walk while striking out four.

“What more can you say?” manager Matt Quatraro said. “Seven shutout [innings], you can’t get much better than that.”

It’s no secret how Lugo gets things done; he’s not dominating hitters with strikeout stuff by any means, but rather forcing weak contact and limiting damage. The White Sox averaged just an 88 mph exit velocity against Lugo. He hasn’t given up a home run since Sept. 20, 2023, as a member of the Padres -- 39 1/3 innings ago.

Monday was Lugo’s fourth quality start in four tries with the Royals. It was his 21st quality start in 30 starts since last year.

“Trying not to think about it,” Lugo said of the groove he’s in. “Just keep putting in work and sticking to my routine.”

“His mix is some of the best I’ve ever seen, and being behind him is incredible,” added center fielder Kyle Isbel, whose RBI single in the fifth gave the Royals a two-run lead. “He goes out there and keeps guys off balance, misses barrels.”

Eleven days ago, Lugo faced the White Sox and limited them to one run in 6 2/3 innings. He featured his breaking balls heavily in that game, throwing his curveball 31% of the time and slider 15% of the time.

On Monday, he switched it up, leaning more on his sinker (25%) while his curveball (17%) got better as the game progressed.

“It wasn’t necessarily the game plan going in, but after a few [sinkers] early in the game, I felt like it was a good pitch tonight,” Lugo said. “It was really taking off in the bullpen.”

That pitch is what led to so much contact from the White Sox, allowing the Royals' defense to work. After a leadoff single from Andrew Benintendi in the sixth inning, Lugo induced a quick double play on a sinker Andrew Vaughn hit to third baseman Maikel Garcia.

“It was huge,” Lugo said. “... With [Vaughn], you’re one mistake away from tying the game. So getting a double play was pretty big there. Having an infield like that, it’s huge for me.”

Lugo followed by striking out Gavin Sheets on three pitches: A called-strike fastball, a sinker fouled back and a knee-buckling curveball that registered a whopping 3,418 rpm.

Nine pitches needed in the frame meant the seventh inning was Lugo’s, too.

“I was hopeful, but if that sixth inning had gone up to the mid-90s, we probably wouldn’t have done it,” Quatraro said. “... The way he can [force contact] is because the ball moves so much. He’s going both directions. He can pitch up. He can pitch down. It’s hard. It’s not as easy as he makes it look.”

In Lugo’s first start against the White Sox, the Royals spotted him 10 runs. On Monday, he was in a pitchers' duel with Nick Nastrini, who was making his Major League debut. The White Sox No. 8 prospect had a perfect game going until Vinnie Pasquantino crushed a fastball 421 feet to right field in the fourth inning.

But a shutout from the Royals -- including Chris Stratton’s scoreless eighth inning and James McArthur’s third save of the year -- meant two runs and five hits was all the offense needed to escape with a win.

“We’re putting the pressure on the pitchers a little bit by not scoring many runs,” Pasquantino said. “So we’re making them go get these quality starts, these shutout performances, but they seem up to the task.”

Lugo’s 2024 ERA is now down to 1.05, and the Royals’ rotation has a 2.29 ERA through 17 starts. Of that group, Cole Ragans is the dominating and emerging ace, and Brady Singer is young, but the longest-tenured Royals starter. Michael Wacha is the outspoken veteran leader.

Lugo is quieter, but there’s no better starter for the Royals to watch as an example for how to go about their outings and the days in between.

“He’s been ridiculous,” Pasquantino said. “All of them have. Him and Wacha are the two vets leading the charge. They’ve been unbelievable. Seth was great tonight. And I’m ready to watch whoever’s out there tomorrow.”

That would be Singer, owner of an 0.98 ERA in three starts this year.