Jesus Luzardo’s second major league outing was bizarre enough that the Eyeball Scout felt it warranted its own post. The line tells only part of the story: 3 IP, 2 hits, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 K. Also sprinkled in was a wild pitch, which as it turned out allowed the run to become earned despite the run scoring passed ball that preceded it.
In the 7th inning, Luzardo faced 4 hitters and dominated all 4, missing a 1-2-3 inning only because Scott Heineman’s check swing dribbler got past Luzardo, then was bobbled by Olson whose hurried throw eluded Luzardo covering. (I thought it should have been ruled a hit, but Olson was charged with an error.)
The weird thing about the 7th is that Luzardo threw almost exclusively fastballs, mixing in one breaking pitch and not going to his changeup. Then the 8th inning came around and Jose Trevino, understandably sitting fastball, ripped one into the left field corner for a leadoff double. You wonder why Luzardo and Murphy did not mix more off speed pitches in to this point.
Then suddenly Luzardo could not locate a fastball to save his life. The 8th was an unfolding nightmare as following a well placed roller by Shin Soo Choo, the A’s lefty issued back to back walks, including a 4-pitch walk and a wild pitch, loading the bases with a run in and still nobody out.
Luzardo’s calling card, terrific command, had utterly abandoned him — until he decided to abandon the fastball. Using his changeup he fooled Nick Solak and struck him out. Then he unleashed sharp and deceptive sliders to fan Rougned Odor. A filthy changeup got Heineman on a squibber to 1B and that was that.
As unnerving as it was to watch Luzardo struggle to throw fastballs anywhere near his target, it was also gratifying to see him able to wiggle completely out of a crisis using almost exclusively sliders and changeups.
To my eyes, part of the issue Luzardo had in the 8th was mechanical. It looked to me like he was rushing the leg kick and tilting his body towards the plate early, and regained command when he slowed down his kick, and maintained more neutral balance before driving towards the hitter.
Once he righted the ship, Luzardo was fine. The 9th inning was an uneventful 1-2-3 frame and actually featured a mix of fastballs and off speed pitches.
I have one other observation to make around the A’s once and future ace: I believe one of his problems is that he is throwing too hard. You don’t win any awards, or any games, for throwing 98MPH with poor location. I suspect Luzardo is twice the pitcher when he gears down and throws “only” 93-94 MPH where he can likely command his fastball far better at that velocity.
So put me in the camp that is actually looking forward to seeing lower numbers on the radar gun. 93MPH with movement on the corner with a plus slider and changeup can dominate. Add several MPH and lose command? Big league hitters will eat that for dinner.
All in all, Luzardo’s first 6 big league innings have been successful and certainly interesting. I suspect, however, that we have yet to see him at his best because by all accounts at his best he can hit the mitt wherever it is set up — and certainly that was not the case today. Still, nice to know how effective he can be when not at his best. And the Houdini act may have been stressful, but it was also impressive to see the recovery and be reminded of how much the stuff plays.
Here’s to the next 3 innings, and hopefully a meaningful role in an extended post-season.