NASHVILLE — At the mere age of 20, Jesus Luzardo is already wowing those who see and face him at Triple-A Nashville.
In his Triple-A debut on Aug. 6, the 6’1” 205lb southpaw hurled five shut-out innings. Luzardo gave up up eight hits, but he struck out six and gave up no walks.
He said he was not nervous after his promotion from Double-A Midland.
“Not really,” he said. “I mean, I had adrenaline going, but after the first pitch, it all went away.”
Fifty-two of his 76 pitches were strikes.
Luzardo was happy with his appearance.
“I had bumps here and there, but I wasn’t complaining about my final result,” he said. “I was happy with how it ended up.”
His second appearance Sunday had some more bumps: he gave up four earned runs in 3.1 innings at Colorado Springs. He gave up a home run and walked two, but he also struck out five. Of his 82 pitches, 53 were strikes.
Drafted in the third round by the Washington Nationals in 2016, he came to the Oakland organization in a July 2017 trade which also brought the A’s reliever Blake Treinen and 3B Sheldon Neuse in exchange for relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson.
Treinen, of course, has been the closer for the big club as they battle for a wild card spot, but Luzardo may very well be the steal of the trade. He is ranked as the number four prospect on the OaklandClubhouse.com’s top 50 prospect list coming into this year.
Similar to what Neuse said earlier this season, Luzardo said there has been a noticeable culture change between the Washington and Oakland systems.
“Oakland is more laid back – do what you need to do, obviously there are rules and protocols you need to follow, but it’s like they’re there for you,” Luzardo said. “I like the Nationals. I can’t complain. I had a great time over there, but it’s definitely more strict and more business-oriented and a lot more rules. Oakland is a lot more laid back.”
Just before the trade, Luzardo had the opportunity to play in the MLB Futures Game during the All-Star break last year. He said it was an invaluable experience.
“It was a great experience,” Luzardo said. “I talked to a lot of the players and a lot of the coaches, future Hall of Famer’s just picking their brains and asking them how they viewed the game – what they used to think when they were going to the plate, what they see in me as a pitcher and just some little things here in there as a pitcher than can help me out. And I took it and I think it’s helped me out after the Futures Game.”
Armed with that input and a versatile arsenal of a fastball, a curveball/slider, and a changeup. Luzardo has shot up from High-A Stockton to Triple-A Nashville just in this year alone.
The fastball hits around 96 mph — “I need to use that more,” he said — and his curveball/slider is a pitch he plays with but is always effective.
“I call it a curveball,” Luzardo said. “It breaks differently – I kind of manipulate it myself, so it’s kind of two pitches in one. It’s just the way I throw it. I kind of throttle it. I can throw it a little harder or throw it a little slower and give it more shape.”
And sometimes, in addition to a normal changeup, he just knocks all the velocity off a pitch – throwing as slow as 67 mph.
“It’s not an eephus,” Luzardo said. “It’s just a slow curveball. I throw it probably one or twice a game. People just step back because they’re confused about what it just was, and then I just keep going on with my game. It just kind of throws them off.”
In his approach to batters, he said he notices the differences in hitters in each level in which he has pitched – even after just one start at Triple-A.
“Definitely here they have more of an approach and they’re more mature, and they know what they’re looking for,” Luzardo said. “At other levels, you can kind of manipulate them, but here they try to wait it out and see what they want [to hit] coming.”
Luzardo’s rapid ascent has not come without challenges.
Born in Peru, Luzardo moved to the United States when he was two, but he has a lot of family in Venezuela, which continues to suffer from political and economic turmoil.
“It’s still real bad,” Luzardo said. “[The media] just kind of stopped covering it, but the situation hasn’t gotten any better. They’re saying it’s hard and a struggle every day. There’s not much you can do. Some of them try to leave. Some of them can’t leave.
“You just try to send stuff over there and see if you can help them, but there’s not much you’re able to do from a distance. Talking with my grandparents that are over there, and some uncles that are struggling over there and it’s a tough time sometimes.”
Luzardo also had to overcome a physical struggle, as he had to have Tommy John surgery during his senior year in high school in 2016.
“It was definitely tough,” he said. “I think I came back to pitching after 13 or 14 months, so it was definitely hard sitting on the sideline and watching the whole time.”
Luzardo brushed off the rehab process.
“It wasn’t too, too hard,” he said. “It hurt sometimes. You go through periods where it hurts a lot. There are struggles and little setbacks here and there. It’s not fun.”
In addition, Luzardo is a graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and he was near the scene when 17 people were killed and another 17 injured in a school shooting on Valentine’s Day of this year.
“I was playing golf with a buddy of mine, and I was supposed to throw live to some batters [at the high school] right before I was going to spring training,” Luzardo said. “I was pulling up to the school and I got a text from the coach that said, ‘Don’t come; there’s an active shooter.’ So I just went home.
“It took me a while to get home because some of the streets were closed because of the response coming. Once I got home, I was basically just watching the news, talking to people I knew and seeing if they were alright.
“It was a bad time. I knew the whole baseball team, but I talked to probably five of them, and the coaches that were there were still there when I was still there. Some of my good buddies that I graduated with, they had siblings at the school, so I was trying to see if they were okay.”
Among those who were killed was Athletic Director Chris Hixon, who ran towards the sound of gunfire in an attempt to help fleeing students.
“I knew him real well,” Luzardo said.
Luzardo said it weighs on his heart, which has created an incredible maturity for someone of his age, but all he can do now is focus on the future and his approach to hitters.
“You didn’t have to think as much. You didn’t have to change your approach,” he said of the lower levels of the minors. “Now, after the first time around [the lineup], you’ve got to sit down and think, ‘Oh, we did this, this, and this, so now we’re going to do this.’ When I was in the lower levels, it was just I was going to attack them and see what they could do.
“High-A, it wasn’t like that, in Double-A it was slowly getting like that, and then I noticed last night (his Triple-A debut) it was definitely like that.
I’m just trying to keep doing what I’ve been doing. I mean, I’ve been throwing the ball well, so I’m not going to make any big changes – some adjustments here and there – but not any big changes.”
Luzardo said he is under a strict innings limit – with only two or three starts left – but he may be a factor in the Oakland rotation next year.
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