Jesús Luzardo spent the majority of his time in the A's minor league system as an esteemed top prospect. Since his big league debut in September 2019, Luzardo has shown flashes of what made him so exciting as a prospect. He equips a lively fastball combined with a devastating changeup, holding an established poise and demeanor quite uncommon for a 23-year-old.
However, Luzardo will be the first to tell you his first full season in the majors -- albeit a 60-game one -- left much to be desired. He struggled to put together consistent outings, finishing 2020 with a 3-2 record and 4.12 ERA. Still, he remains an integral core member of an A's rotation hoping to lead Oakland to its fourth straight postseason -- and beyond. The A's still are plenty high on Luzardo, and for good reason.
NBC Sports California caught up with Luzardo for a Q&A session regarding what the southpaw learned from 2020, how he plans on improving in 2021 and his thoughts on the A's overall heading into a new season.
Katie Woo (KW): You've talked previously about wanting to be a little bit more consistent in your starts this year. How are you planning to learn from your experiences in 2020 to do so?
Jesús Luzardo (JL): I feel like I worked enough in the offseason that I put myself in a position where I know where my body is right now. I know how it's supposed to feel. I know what it feels like when I'm doing it right. So I think that now that I've worked so much and so consistently there that now should just be muscle memory at this point. I should just be good to go.
KW: Do you feel any pressure to perform this year based on your inconsistency struggles last year?
JL: No, not at all. I mean, I never feel pressure, really. I would just say it's like more motivation. I'm self-motivated in myself to prove that I could be who I think I am and hopefully who the A's want me to be. But at the same time, I don't take that as pressure. I just take it as motivation.
KW: The A’s had a pretty slow and frustrating offseason for the majority of the winter, letting various key free agents walk while not making very many moves. Then, with spring training approaching, the team made a flurry of moves that have projected well so far. What are your thoughts on the A’s offseason?
JL: Yeah, I think, obviously, like you said, we started pretty slow. But now we’ve signed some key guys and I think they're going to be huge for us. I think they fit really well into the clubhouse, from what I’ve seen at least. We're having a great time having fun out there, but still being competitive. I think it’ll be an awesome time.
KW: What do you think the most underrated move the A's have made is?
JL: I think the most underrated, I'll say by far, is Yusmeiro Petit. Petit’s a guy that goes under the radar, but he's always sneaky in appearances. He's just such a good leader and such a good teammate to so many of us. I think it goes unsaid a lot, but he's a big part of this team.
Throughout last season, he was someone I could go to and talk about anything, really. He was someone who I picked his brain a lot throughout the season. I'm glad to have him back for sure.
KW: Do you think Petit could anchor the bullpen, which is full of different ages and skills, but is also quietly probably one of the most underrated bullpens in baseball this year?
JL: I definitely do. He's like that glue that can just put everyone together like you said, all different ages, all different styles of pitchers. But, they're all nasty. So at the same time, you know, a lot of these guys are slept on and then they come out and have a great year. That's what we hope for. But I think that Petit can really be the anchor of that bullpen.
KW: It's not clear what the starting rotation will look like this year, but the A’s did bring back Mike Fiers and A.J. Puk could slot in if healthy. What are your thoughts on the rotation and what you think it can accomplish this year?
JL: The starting rotation is another strong part of this team. I think that we have a lot of key parts back Fiers is back, [Chris] Bassitt had such a great year, having [Frankie] Montas back, [Sean] Manaea. We have a lot of weapons, a lot of different types of arms, but we have so much fun and we push each other so well on this team. With the mentality that we've been having, we would all love to have a great year.
KW: In your opinion, what is the strongest part of this A's team coming into 2021?
JL: On the field, I would say it's hard to pick. But honestly, I feel like off the field, in the clubhouse, that's what helps us the most. I know I haven't been on other teams much, but every guy that comes over here says they have such a great time. I feel like we just have such a good bond in that clubhouse that it helps us on the field.
KW: New acquisition Mitch Moreland mentioned previously that team chemistry is such an underrated part of clubhouse culture and success. Would you agree with that?
JL: Yeah, it definitely is. From the times that I've heard and my personal experiences, being in a clubhouse that isn't fun, or where you're not looking forward to going to the park, I feel like those are the teams that don't win as much, and those are the teams that kind of struggle. But the teams that are having fun, everyone's joking around, but at the same time, know when to get serious, I think that those are the teams that have great chemistry, and that leads to great chemistry on the field.
KW: There are a lot of expectations for the A's to perform this year, but what is the biggest thing that you personally are trying to accomplish this season?
JL: My biggest goal is to be on the field the whole year, not miss a start, and just be healthy and put us in a position to win every time I can every five days. Obviously I would like to have a better year than last year. Last year was frustrating, to say the least. I don't really look at numbers too much. I was more frustrated with how I pitched and my inability to keep us in games longer. I feel like that's something that I want to accomplish this year.