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Jesus Luzardo aces season debut, could be in rotation soon

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The rookie lefty threw three scoreless innings of relief against the Angels

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Oakland Athletics D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

Oakland A’s fans waited all winter to see top prospect Jesus Luzardo join the team’s starting rotation, and that could finally happen soon.

The rookie left-hander made his 2020 season debut on Saturday out of the bullpen, throwing three sparkling innings of scoreless relief against the Los Angeles Angels and serving as a bright spot in the A’s quiet 4-1 loss.

Luzardo was expected to begin the year in the rotation after his brilliant MLB debut stint last September, but he tested positive for coronavirus during the Summer Camp intake screening process and had to spend most of the preseason training period in quarantine. He eventually tested negative and cleared the protocol, but there wasn’t time for him to stretch out and be part of the Opening Day rotation.

Instead, he pitched in relief in the A’s second game of the season, and the results were exactly what everyone had hoped to see: Domination.

Luzardo entered in the 6th, and the first batter he faced was Justin Upton, a four-time All-Star who had already homered earlier in the game. Luzardo struck him out on three straight 98 mph fastballs, each beautifully located in different corners of the zone. The last pitch, right on the inside edge, hit the catcher’s glove perfectly while Upton swung straight through it.

First pitch called, second fouled, third swing and miss
Credit: MLB Gameday

In the end, Luzardo faced 10 batters and retired nine of them, including two strikeouts. There was a double to lead off his second frame, but he was able to work around it and strand the runner. He also issued a leadoff walk in the 8th, but he atoned for that by getting reigning MVP Mike Trout to ground into a double play.

Luzardo: 3 ip, 0 runs, 2 Ks, 1 BB, 1 hit, 44 pitches (28 strikes)

The 22-year-old was dealing exactly as advertised, showing the stuff that makes him a national Top Ten prospect in the entire sport. His fastball averaged around 96-97 and hit 98 a handful of times, while his filthy offspeed and breaking pitches combined to earn four swinging strikes and a few pieces of mostly weak contact.

Even more exciting is that he thinks he can still do better. “Luzardo didn’t even feel he had his best stuff today. Said it felt better during his live BP session last week,” reports insider Martin Gallegos.

So, what does this mean for the rookie’s immediate future? There was never a specific timetable put on his return to the rotation, but it sounds like it will be sooner than later. Manager Bob Melvin still plans to use him in relief for one more appearance, but he “doesn’t rule out Luzardo starting next time out,” reports Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle. Luzardo himself feels ready to start whenever he gets that call, says Gallegos.

Right now the A’s rotation features Frankie Montas, Sean Manaea, and Mike Fiers, with Chris Bassitt and Daniel Mengden filling in for Luzardo and injured fellow rookie A.J. Puk. Mengden was the last one in, and he’ll start Tuesday against the Rockies. Even if Luzardo can only go 3-5 innings at first when he does move to the rotation, there are plenty of multi-inning options to help out behind him in the pen, including Mengden himself if he gets bumped to relief.

The A’s rotation began the season with a different look than expected, but soon enough it could add the young, dynamic arm who might someday become its ace. The green and gold faithful has been looking forward to this for a long time.