The Oakland A’s called up their top prospect this week, in pitcher Jesus Luzardo. The left-hander made every national Top 50 list entering the season and was in the Top 20 at most sources, and he was the A’s consensus No. 1 prospect across the board.
On Wednesday, Luzardo made his MLB debut, in relief against the Astros. Athletics Nation has waited a long time for the Ace Of The Future to arrive, and he did not disappoint. By the end of the evening he’d faced 10 batters and retired nine of them, helping preserve a slim lead against arguably the best lineup in the majors.
Luzardo, Wed: 3 ip, 2 Ks, 1 run, 1 hit, 1 HR, 0 BB
Overall Luzardo threw 36 pitches, of which 24 were fastballs, eight were sliders, and four were changeups. (Of the fastballs, 20 registered on Statcast as two-seamers, and four as four-seamers, but I’m combining them for now.) His heater averaged 96.1 mph and topped out at 97.9, and both of his strikeouts came looking on fastballs. His slider earned him mostly strikes, including his only swing-and-miss of the night. And his four changeups resulted in two called strikes and two pieces of weak contact.
As for the game itself, Luzardo entered to begin the 6th inning. The A’s had just rallied to take a 5-2 lead, and starter Brett Anderson had held his own thru five frames but was already deep into the third time through the lineup. This was a fairly high-leverage spot for an MLB debut, in a hold situation on the road against the best team in the league.
The first pitch of Luzardo’s career was a 96.1 mph fastball to Aledmys Diaz, which beautifully painted the low-inside corner of the zone for a called strike. From there he worked a 2-2 count, and then he froze Diaz with another well-placed 97.2 mph fastball for his first career strikeout. Note the impressive movement he gets on the pitch in the video below.
Next up was Josh Reddick, and Luzardo quickly dispatched him on two pitches, but then the lefty made his only mistake of the night. He fell behind Martin Maldonado 3-0, and then on 3-1 he grooved a fastball straight down the pipe and Maldonado crushed it 396 feet for a solo homer. From there it was smooth sailing, as Luzardo never allowed another baserunner.
The 21-year-old showed particular poise against his next batter after the homer. With a 1-2 count on Miles Straw, he appeared to place a fastball pretty obviously within the strike zone, but he didn’t get the call. Rather than getting flustered, though, he was able to find the zone again two pitches later to earn the strikeout after all — ending the inning and leaving the top of the lineup waiting on deck. It’s worth noting that the missed strike call came on a bit of a quick-pitch.
In the 7th inning, Luzardo brought his changeup out to play. He got George Springer to reach for one and ground it softly to shortstop, and then on the next pitch he got Jose Altuve to reach for one and pop it up in the infield. He then made another near-mistake to Michael Brantley, leaving a fastball up on the inside corner that got smoked for a 100.5 mph exit velocity, but it died on the warning track 384 feet away for a loud out.
The 8th inning was a breeze, with three soft groundball outs. He faced the likely MVP runner-up in Alex Bregman, and monster rookie slugger Yordan Alvarez, plus Diaz for a second time, but he got all of them to tap out on fastballs (watch a couple of them in this video). From there he gave way to Liam Hendriks, who locked down the 9th inning to seal the victory for the A’s.
Add it all up, and Luzardo faced 10 batters and allowed only two hard-hit balls, with one of those smashes finding a glove. He threw 22 of his 36 pitches for strikes, but even when he missed the zone it was usually low or otherwise not somewhere where the hitters could do damage with it — interestingly, he didn’t miss above the zone at all.
His friends and family were loving it.
Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the fact that Luzardo is now the first player born in Peru ever to appear in MLB. He identifies with his Venezuelan roots, and he grew up mostly in Florida, but he was born in Lima.
All in all, an excellent debut by Luzardo. He came into a high-leverage spot against the best of the best and he showed off his great fastball, dangerous secondaries, and sharp control and command. As far as the box score is concerned, he was perfect for three innings other than the dinger to Maldonado. The only possible complaint is that we’re gonna have to wait all the way until Sunday to see him pitch again.
Welcome to the Show, Jesus!